Alleged Actions by Cruise Ship Captain 'Unforgivable,' Maritime Lawyer Says

Image credit: Enzo Russo/AP Photo

A maritime law expert called the reported actions of  capsized cruise ship  "unforgivable."

Capt. Francesco Schettino is being detained and questioned about his actions that led to the deaths of at least six people. Among the issues are accusations that the captain abandoned his ship while hundreds of terrified passengers were still aboard struggling to find a way off the darkened ship.

Schettino, who is being held in jail in the town of Grosseto, is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday.

The captain's lawyer Bruno Leporatti said today that Schettino is "distressed, shocked, in pain for the loss of human life, but comforted by the knowledge that he kept lucid enough to carry out a difficult emergency maneuver which, taking the ship into shallow waters, in fact saved the life of many people, guests and crew."

Others were outraged by reports that Schettino had taken the ship on an authorized route, waited nearly an hour to send out an SOS, and left the stricken ship around 12:30 a.m. Saturday, although many passengers didn't get rescued till 6 a.m.

"The captain is the master of the vessel," John H. "Jack" Hickey, a maritime trial lawyer in Miami, told ABC News today. "Every crew members looks to the captain for guidance and leadership. He has to take care of life and property in that order. If I were the captain, I'd be out there in boats."

Hickey said he didn't know whether a captain abandoning a ship was illegal by any state or federal statute, but he did say that it was protocol and an industry standard that the captain remain.

"It's what they teach them in maritime school. It's in the merchant mariners handbook," said Hickey, who now represents passengers and crew members against cruise lines. Previously he worked as an attorney for the cruise lines.

"It's the captain's responsibility to know the waters and avoid coming close to any shoals and reefs. He should know this route," Hickey said. "The key is to avoid mistakes and when mistakes are made, to react to it appropriately. "

The ship's black box reportedly revealed a one-hour lag between the time of impact at 9:45 p.m. local time Friday and the ship's alarm call to the coast guard at 10:43 p.m. Investigators said they believed the captain was trying to move the ship before alerting authorities, the Italian news agency Ansa reported.

There were also reports that some passengers did not know where to meet in case of an emergency and that a drill had been scheduled for the following day.

"There are standards," Hickey told ABC News today. "If the ship is aground hard and you can't move it … you should be calling 'May Day' right then and there. It's kind of outrageous what happened. It seems unforgivable. Muster drills should be done every time they leave port [with new passengers]. You never put it off."

According to the BBC, Schettino worked for Costa Cruises - Carnival is the parent company - for 11 years and joined the company in 2002 as an official in charge of security. He was made captain in 2006 after serving as second-in-command.

"The company will be close to the captain and will provide him with all the necessary assistance, but we need to acknowledge the facts and we cannot deny human error," Costa Cruises chief executive officer Pier Luigi Foschi told a news conference in Genoa. "He wanted to show the ship, to [go] nearby this island of Giglio, so he decided to change the course of the ship to go closer to the island."

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