There are not many European stories that break into the Phillipino press – let alone talked about here over breakfast or lunch. There is currently an impeachment trial for the chief justice which is getting a lot of column inches. Foreign stories are often dominated by the US or China.   So it has been of note to see how the tragic sinking of the liner in Italy has broken into the news – and the table discussions.  A death toll in single figures, sadly, is unlikely to garner much attention here, it seems to be the focus on the reckless captain that is generating interest.

What has caught my attention is in comparing the stories of the captain and the chaplain. The Captain has been criticised for abandoning ship after his reckless maneuver, saving his own skin rather than his passengers safety. As you might have seen they have released the recorded conversation of the coastguard and the captain.

Coastguard (De Falco): “Listen there are people going down from the prow using the rope ladder; you take that rope ladder on the opposite side, you go aboard and you tell me the number of people and what they have on board. Is that clear? You tell me whether there are children, women or people needing assistance. And you tell me the number of each of these categories. Is that clear? Schettino, maybe you saved yourself from the sea, but I’ll make you pay for sure. Go aboard.”

Captain (Schettino): “Commander, please?”

De Falco: “Please, now you go aboard.”

Schettino: “I am on the life boat, under the ship, I haven’t gone anywhere, I’m here.”

De Falco: “What are you doing, commander?”

Schettino: “I’m here to coordinate rescues.”

De Falco: “What are you coordinating there? Go on board and coordinate rescues from on board. Do you refuse?”

Schettino: “No, no I’m not refusing.”

De Falco: “You’re refusing to go aboard, commander, tell me why you’re not going.”

Schettino: “I’m not going because there is another lifeboat stopped there.”

De Falco: “Go aboard: it’s an order. You have no evaluation to make, you declared abandon ship, now I give orders: go aboard. Is it clear?”

Compare this with the accounts coming from the Apostleship of the Sea in Italy, of how the 70 year old chaplain Fr. Raffaele 
Mallena came to the aid of passengers and crew members. According to Fr Mallena said that during dinner he felt immediately that something was very, very wrong. He went to the chapel to pray and  when he realised the “abandon ship” alarm was sounding, he consumed the Eucharist and locked the staff’s valuables, including jewellery and money, in a safe. During the chaos that followed, the priest tried to stay aboard with the crew but was persuaded it would be better if he boarded a lifeboat and left the sinking ship. Thousands of passengers at the Savona cruise terminal where the local Apostleship of the Sea joined other agencies to distribute clothing and food. It is also providing spiritual and emotional support. Fr Mallena and parishioners on the island of Giglio, where the ship sank, worked during the night to assist those leaving the ship.

Women and Children first on the HMS Birkenhead

Of course none of us know how we will react when faced with such tragic circumstances.  But the comparison is stark and telling. Just a historical note of interest – a matter of pride for us Scousers (from Liverpool) is the account of the sinking of the HMS Birkenhead (taken from here clicky) . The heroic actions of the men on this boat established the protocol of  ‘women and children first’ .  In 1852 after hitting rocks the Birkenhead was rapidly sinking in the shark-infested waters of South Africa. While about sixty men were sent to the pumps, the other men were commanded to stand drawn up in line and to await orders. The teams who were in charge of the boats were frustrated to find that most of the lowering equipment would not function, as a result of a lack of maintenance and the thick layer of paint that clogged the mechanisms. Eventually two cutters and a gig were launched and the women and children were rowed away from the wreck to safety. The horses were cut loose and thrown overboard. Only then did Captain Salmond shout to the men that everyone who could swim must save himself by jumping into the sea and making for the boats.

The soldier’s commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Seton, knew to rush the lifeboats might mean that the boats would be swamped and this would further endanger the lives of the women and children already aboard the boats. He drew his sword and ordered his men to stand fast. The soldiers did not budge even as the ship split in two and the main mast crashed on to the deck.
The Birkenhead went down rapidly for only twenty-five minutes after she had struck the rocks, only the topmast and topsail yard were visible above the water. There were about fifty men still clinging to them. The sea was full of men desperately clawing for anything that could float. Death by drowning came quickly to most of them, but some of the men – and the horses – were taken by Great White sharks.

(taken from the website