Monday, January 16, 2012

Shipwrecked Captain Thrown Under Bus

That didn't take long.

Carnival Corporation's Costa Crociere CEO today blamed the captain of the Concordia's captain for grounding the vessel late last week off the coast of Italy. As of this writing, six people have died in the tragedy and 16 people remain missing. This accident has turned to a crisis for the largest company in the cruise industry and the industry itself.

The ship's captain was detained by Italian authorities shortly after the accident. He was charged with manslaughter and abandoning ship before everyone was off the vessel. Multiple newspaper accounts include statements from passengers and Italian Coast Guard authorities about the captain leaving the ship. According to one AP report, members of the Coast Guard even tried to persuade the captain to return to the ship to oversee the evacuation. The captain refused.

Was it the right thing to do to blame the captain? Is this crisis such an existential threat to the company that decisive action was required? Is there no benefit to waiting for an investigation, which at this point has yet to begin?

From a crisis response perspective, I'm interested in your thoughts about the company's actions. What do you think?


  1. I think it's an ultra high risk strategy. Even if he turns out to be at fault, the company has serious questions to answer like why didn't another member of crew challenge his actions, who appointed him, who was monitoring his behaviour and what was the corporate culture under which he was operating? And in any case, what is a company if not the sum total of its employees?

    If the allegation turns out to be false or only a small part of the story, it's even worse news for Costa Cruises

    More thoughts here

    Jonathan Hemus

  2. Jonathan-Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. I agree that the company has much to answer for. It seems the junior crew members "mutinied" and started running the evacuation themselves. This sounds like a poorly led organization. There is no excuse for lack of preparation for an abandon ship command when you are in charge of the vessel.

  3. Bill - having been a part of a few crisis situations, I will say this: There are times when truly, all the facts are not in, the cause is not known, and it will take an investigation to actually determine what went wrong. In the fog, the usual crisis PR rules apply: demonstrate concern for the incident, commitment to discovering what happened, and compassion for the victims.

    And there are other times when even moments into the crisis, the primary cause is both obvious and the sequence of events is available to the public.

    Seems the latter was the case here. The captain's actions were both public (witnesses, marine-band radio traffic) and clearly inexcusable. Any "refrain from comment/judgement" or "wait until all the facts are in" would look like the company was completely in denial of the obvious facts.

    There may be further systemic problems on the ship - and the crew's "mutinous" response might reflect the captain's poor leadership and management of his ship. And perhaps there is a bigger problem in the training/ qualification of the cruise line company's merchant mariners. But it was immediately obvious to the public that the captain had committed some egregious errors. He threw himself under the bus - the company merely confirmed the obvious.