Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Captain of the Ship

Like many of you, I’ve been struck by the news of the recent cruise-ship fiasco off the coast of Italy. If the stories are indeed accurate about the behavior of the captain after his ship’s grounding and incapacitation, then his name may become synonymous with cowardice in the same sense that Benedict Arnold’s is identified as traitorous. And cowardice may be the least of the captain’s problems before all is finally settled.

How could such a man be entrusted with an expensive vessel and hundreds of lives in his care? Shouldn’t something in his character have been noticed along the way which would’ve raised a red flag about his fitness? I’m guessing that the red flags were there all along. Maybe not, but I’d bet that clues will surface suggesting this guy was a loose cannon. And just as likely, we’ll find that nobody in a position of authority did anything about it. Now, lives have been lost, property has been destroyed, and the threat of an environmental disaster is looming.

Captains stay with their ships.

Did no one ever teach this guy that age-old maxim? Can you imagine the chaos that would’ve followed if a panicked Capt. Sullenberger had immediately elbowed his way out of the cockpit and jumped into a lifeboat after the airliner he was piloting crash-landed in the Hudson River?

The Marine Corps taught us as young lieutenants that officers eat last. When the troops have been fed, only then do the officers eat (and only if anything is left). It’s all about responsibility; it’s about being in charge and looking out for your people. Commanders stay with their men. Captains stay with their ships.

The marketplace will not be kind to the cruise-ship company. And it shouldn’t. The company had a buffoon in its employ whose judgment was suspect in normal times and whose spinelessness was tragically evident in a crisis. It was a recipe for disaster, and a disaster is what they got. It’s virtually guaranteed that other cruise-ship companies are reviewing their ship captains’ records of performance, at this very moment, looking for those red flags.

It’s sad that this one slipped through the cracks only after his ship was on its side and he was elsewhere.

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