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Cruise ship captain carries Italy's shame

In Italy, coastguard rescue teams are continuing to search the wreckage of the cruise ship that sank off the coast of Tuscany. The behavior of the ship's captain, Francesco Schettino, has deeply embarrassed Italians.

Francesco Schettino

Francesco Schettino was arrested by Italian police

From talk shows to T-shirt slogans, many Italians are expressing their outrage at the behavior of Captain Francesco Schettino. His ship, the Costa Corcordia, sank last week off the coast of Tuscany, with more than 4,000 passengers on board. The ship apparently hit a rock when the captain steered the ship too close to the shore.

Many Italians are deeply embarrassed by the tragedy, with its clear element of human error.

Some are insisting that the country, with its economic woes and ongoing political crisis, now more than ever needs an alternative model of behavior.

Abandoned ship

Costa Concordia

The Costa Concordia sank off the western coast of Italy

As panicked passengers scrambled towards lifeboats an hour after the ship began to tilt, one voice missing was that of the captain instructing passengers on how to proceed.

That's because, as the world now knows, Captain Schettino was no longer on the ship. He was sitting in a rubber dinghy in the waters nearby, coming up with excuses over the phone to port authority head Gregorio De Falco as to why he had abandoned ship and would not get back on.

An enraged De Falco responded "get back on board, damn it!"

Within less than a week, those words have become a catchphrase in Italy, splashed across headlines and now printed on T-shirts.

They're a kind of protest against the image broadcast around the world of an Italy full of people like Captain Schettino: juvenile, show-offs who, in time of great danger and crisis, literally jump ship.

Stuff of satire

From talk shows to blogs to stand-up comics, all week Italians have been expressing their deep embarrassment at the image projected by Schettino.

A diver on the wreck

The salvage operation continues

"Italy is full of Captain Schettinos, said popular comedian Maurizio Cozza this week. "People with no qualifications who occupy key leadership positions. Schettino is the perfect metaphor for this country. Someone who says everything is going well while the ship is sinking reminds me of someone else."

Comedian Cozza isn't the only observer to compare Schettino to former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who insisted everything was just fine for months leading up to Italy's economic crisis.

As businesses are shutting down throughout the country and bright young people prepare to leave due to lack of jobs, the stunning visual metaphor of a sinking ship caused by a negligent captain cuts close to the bone.

But De Falco, the coast guard captain whose message of responsibility now adorns T-shirts, provides an alternative model that many young people are embracing.

At the same time, in a country where politicians with proven connections to the mafia are still in power, some have little hope that Schettino will be found guilty in a court of law.

Author: Megan Williams, Rome / ji
Editor: Nicole Goebel

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