In an unnecessary tragedy, the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia was run aground by its irresponsible captain last weekend resulting in numerous deaths as the ship capsized on the rocks off of the coast of Giglio, Italy.

News reports claim the captain, Francisco Schettino was showboating for a head waiter by veering off course to close to the island resulting in a 165 foot hole being ripped into the hull of the vessel by rocks in the shallow waters.

As if this poor judgment was not bad enough, Schettino then decided to abandon the ship ahead of his passengers and crew resulting in the Coast Guard attempting to repeatedly order him back on board the ship. In an act of cowardice, the captain apparently refused and is currently under house arrest and charged with several counts of manslaughter among other serious charges.

What is interesting about this is that it was almost 100 years ago another large passenger liner collided with an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean resulting in the deaths of 1,517 people and up until a Philippine ferry collided with a tanker in 1987 killing 4,375 people was the worst peacetime disaster in maritime history. There are some interesting parallels in what happened to both vessels that I thought about since reading about this disaster and some stark differences.

Both ships had large holes ripped in the hull by an object just below the water as they sailed almost full ahead on their journeys. Both ships were the largest of their kind built by their respective countries. The Titanic was the largest ship built by England while the Costa Concordia was the largest cruise ship built in Italy. Both vessels had top speeds of 23 knots and the Concordia was carrying exactly 2000 passengers more than the Titanic.

One of the most interesting coincidences or omens depending on one's viewpoint is their flawed christenings. The RMS Titanic was not christened by the White Star Lines as was their custom. The tradition of christening a ship dates back to ancient times when Egyptians, Greeks and Romans all held ceremonies to bless their ships pouring water on the deck and in some cultures wine and water while asking for a blessing on the ship. This was believed to invoke the protection of the gods of the ocean on the boat as it was launched in the water.

The Titanic did not receive this ceremony which has evolved into having a woman break a bottle of wine or champagne on the bow of the vessel and naming the ship as it sets sail from dry dock. Obviously the Titanic failed to survive its maiden voyage but it is not the only ship to reflect a failed or omitted christening.

In English tradition, a monarch normally christens the country's ships. In 2007, Camilla, wife of Prince Charles was asked to christen the ship the Queen Victoria. When she attempted to smash the traditional bottle of champagne on the bow of the vessel it bounced off and failed to break. Three weeks later during its maiden voyage the highly contagious Norovirus spread through the passengers and crew causing nearly eight people to become violently ill and resulting in a failed maiden voyage.

In an amazing irony, the Costa Concordia also had a failed christening. The bottle of champagne also failed to break on the bow of this vessel and now its wreckage sits in the waters off the coast of Giglio with several injured and dead passengers. While many of us believe superstitions are foolish musings of the past, one has to question sometimes whether there may not be something of substance behind some superstitions.

One other coincidence that both ships seemed to share is their captains were somewhat haughty individuals. Captain Edward John Smith ordered the ship to travel full speed ahead regardless of repeated warnings of icebergs in the waters west of the Titanic and when one is sighted it is too late to avoid colliding with it.

Captain Francisco Schettino decides to steer his cruise ship off course and closer to an island than safety warranted. Both men were directly responsible for the collisions of their vessels and subsequent sinkings.

The one notable difference between the two men is that Smith realized his error and his duties and when it became apparent the Titanic was doomed he released his crew after they did everything they could to save passengers. Smith though returned to the bridge to meet his fate in Davy Jones' Locker as he went down with the massive liner.

Schettino, on the other hand, showed his total lack of character one expects from a ship's captain as he high tailed it off the ship before his passengers and claimed to be guiding evacuation efforts from a lifeboat refusing to comply with direct orders from the Italian Coast Guard. He was arrested and is being charged with causing the wreck and manslaughter charges.

In these two captains one can see a microcosm of what has happened to society in general. While both captains were reckless and egocentric with their responsibilities, one hundred years ago Smith went down with his ship while today another captain in similar circumstances bailed like a water rat. It speaks to the general decay of character and sense of responsibility reflected in our society in these century separated shipwrecks.

What do you think?

Til next time...