Captain Schettino Faces Up To 12 Years In Prison For Abandoning His Ship — And More For Manslaughter

Capt. Schettino

When Captain Francesco Schettino allegedly abandoned his Costa Concordia cruise ship as it sunk off the Italian coast, he may have broken one of the oldest rules in the maritime handbook.

A captain goes down with his ship. Well, he’s at least supposed to be the last one off and coordinate the evacuation.

Unfortunately for Schettino, who is currently under house arrest over the incident, the tradition is also enshrined in most maritime law books. And the shaky excuse that he accidently fell into a rescue boat might not hold up in court.

Edward Phillips, principal lecturer in the department of law and criminology at the University of Greenwich, told the BBC that a captain who fails to ensure the safety of his passengers in Italian waters could be prosecuted under either national or international law.

Under the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) convention, which Italy has ratified, passenger ships are required have an emergency plan that sets out who is responsible for what during a crisis situation.

Costa Concordia’s emergency documents haven’t been released, but may say that the captain must be the last to leave the vessel.

National rules are even more direct: Italy’s Maritime Law stipulates that a captain who abandons his ship before it sinks, and while passengers are still on board, could face 3 – 12 years in prison, according to the BBC.

The SOLAS treaty dates back to 1914 — it was written in response to the sinking of the Titanic — but rules governing abandoning ship have been around for much longer. Back when captaining a vessel was a much tougher game.

Anyone caught sleeping on watch would have a bucket of sea-water poured over their head

A second-time offender would have their hands tied over their head and a bucket of water poured down each sleeve.

Four-time nappers would be put to death in a particularly cruel way: hung over the side of the ship in a covered basket, with nothing but a loaf of bread, a mug of ale and a sharp knife. A sentry would ensure that the offender never returned aboard, leaving him to starve or cut himself adrift and drown at sea.

Source: Admiralty Black Book

Cooks who spoiled a meal were beaten with stockings full of sand

The practice was officially disallowed in 1811.

Source: Royal Navy & Marine Customs and Traditions

It was forbidden to propose a toast before the 'Loyal Toast to the Sovereign'

Diners would then raise their galsses in a toast of the day:

Monday -- Our ships at sea
Tuesday -- Our men
Wednesday -- Ourselves, because no one else is likely to bother
Thursday -- A bloody war or a sickly season (to ensure quicker promotion)
Friday -- A willing foe and sea room
Saturday -- Wives and sweethearts -- may they never meet (reply is made by the youngest officer present)
Sunday -- Absent friends.

Source: Royal Navy & Marine Customs and Traditions

A deceased man's possessions would be auctioned off to his shipmates, with the proceeds applies to the man's estate

'Many articles sell for several times their original cost, only to be returned to the auctioneer for resale.'

Source: Royal Navy & Marine Customs and Traditions

Whistling was forbidden on most ships

Previously, sailors would 'whistle a wind' on a calm day. But superstition got the better of them after they supposedly summoned too many dangerous gales. It was safer to keep quiet.

Source: Royal Navy & Marine Customs and Traditions

The tradition of sailors wearing earrings is based on a superstition that pierced ears enhanced eyesight and made crew more spritely

Plain gold earings can still be seen in the ranks of the Royal Navy.

Source: Royal Navy & Marine Customs and Traditions

A sailor would get a swallow tattoo for 5,000 nautical miles traveled

Swallows always find their way home.

Source: Maritime Museum of British Columbia

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