Costa Concordia captain Francesco Schettino sparks outrage by giving seminar at Sapienza Rome university

Schettino was allegedly invited to speak by a university professor

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The Independent Online

The Sapienza University of Rome has found itself at the centre of controversy after it emerged Francesco Schettino, the captain of the doomed Costa Concordia, was invited to speak at an event organised by a university professor on 'managing panic'.

Italian newspaper La Nazione reports that Schettino, currently on trial for charges of manslaughter and abandoning ship, described himself an “expert” on panic management in times of crisis as he spoke at the end of a limited access session held off the campus and organised by professor Vincenzo Mastronardi who teaches at the University’s Faculty of Medicine.

Schettino, who allegedly refused repeated orders to get back on the Concordia while as many as 300 passengers remained trapped on board, spoke after a 3D reconstruction of the sinking of the ship was shown.

He allegedly told the newspaper: “I was invited as an expert - I know how you behave in these situations. Besides, I have travelled in all the seas of the world, I know how you are supposed to react with ethnically diverse crews."

Schettino also reportedly claimed there are academic studies comparing the maritime disaster to other tragedies, such as the 9/11 attacks in America. He apparently asked: “How is it during the attack on the Twin Towers, there were people who threw themselves from the windows, but during the sinking of the Concordia, no-one did anything of a similar kind?”

Thirty-two people died when the ship hit a reef near the Tuscan island of Giglio in 2012 and ran aground. A two year salvage operation, one of the biggest ever in maritime history, entered its final stages in July. The total cost is expected to hit 1.5bn euros (£1.2bn; $2bn).

Schettino is being tried by a court in Grosseto, Tuscany on a number of charges, including manslaughter, all of which he denies. He insists the reef was not on the ship's navigational charts and that he helped direct the evacuation after reaching land. If found guilty he faces up to 20 years in prison.

Luigi Frati, the Dean of the University, condemned Schettino’s presence at the event as "shameful and inopportune", adding that Mr Mastronardi has been referred to an ethics committee by the university.

La Sapienza University released a statement distancing itself from the seminar, which it described as a "grave episode", and said it had been immediately referred to the ethics committee for evaluation and possible disciplinary proceedings.

In a strongly worded statement, it added: “It is precisely this programme which exacerbates the gravity of the situation for the institutions (both the University and the Air Force) due to the absence of any contradictory point of view (it would have been interesting to have one of the passengers or a relative of one of the deceased). 

"The academic liberty which university professors enjoy also imposes on them a duty to be responsible, precisely because this is an educationally established community."

Video: Costa Concordia taken to be scrapped

Mr Mastronardi defended Schettino's presence to the Italian edition of Wired, arguing it was not a master class, nor part of any university study programme, but simply a free-standing limited access event attended only by experts and where Schettino had only made a very brief appearance.

Mr Mastronardi also said he had chosen the Aviator Club as a venue that does not formally belong to the University in order to keep it quite "separate it from the University context".