Costa Concordia Trial: Produce your explanation, Captain, and pray make it improbable

Costa Concordia's Captain Francesco Schettino originally told investigators he tripped and fell into a lifeboat. Ah yes. I've done it a hundred times.


Some years ago, I was drinking in the Oasis bar in the west of Ireland, a popular meeting place for the local hunt.

Half an hour after the horses had galloped fox-wards, a couple of local farmers came in, dragging a stricken rider between them. He was a posh Anglo-Irishman, and his hunting-pink livery was covered in mud. Clods of slimy earth adhered to the seat of his tailcoat. Mossy twigs protruded from his collar. His eyes gazed out from a face smeared with ordure and grot.

As the farmers helped him upright, one of the pub regulars asked, “Was it in the wood, or at the dry-stone wall, that your honour fell off?” The mud-drenched aristo drew himself upright. “I did not fall orf,” he announced. “I got orf.”

Something about his dignified rebuttal came to mind when I read about the trial of Captain Francesco Schettino, who steered the Costa Concordia onto a reef last year and, as it capsized, scarpered for home, leaving hundreds of terrified passengers to their fate. He’s now in court in Tuscany, charged with manslaughter and abandoning ship.

A crucial bit of evidence against him was that he’d scrambled into a lifeboat long before the passengers were evacuated. “No I didn’t,” the Captain originally protested. “I didn’t scramble into a lifeboat. I accidentally tripped and fell into one.”

Ah, yes. So easy, isn’t it, to trip over on deck, and fall 10 feet sideways? I’ve done it a hundred times. And isn’t it maddening how, as you’re struggling to get out, they start winching the bloody thing down to the sea and so to safety?

Schettino’s lawyer, Domenico Pepe, evidently thought the “tripped-and-fell” excuse was unconvincing. (It’s often used by people in A&E departments with vacuum cleaner parts up their bottoms.) So on Tuesday, he offered the trial judges a different line of defence about the lifeboat incident. “The idea that he abandoned ship is a wrong interpretation,” he said. The Cap’n had been “lightly thrown off” the ship in the melee of panicking cruise-folk.

“Lightly thrown”, eh? A lovely phrase that suggests the Cap’n has a delicate, thistledown quality about him and can be wafted off his feet by a breeze. One look at Schettino’s thick-set, voluptuary’s frame suggests this is unlikely. But in the Land of Rubbish Excuses, anything goes. We can look forward to the Cap’n explaining how a flock of Tuscan hoopoes suddenly flew down, seized him in their beaks and dropped him in the poop; or that a gust of wind ballooned in his bell-bottoms and slewed him sharply to starboard. Either could be true, or could be just a pile of schettino.

Back to the future

An Aussie restaurateur called Paul Mathis has had an ingenious idea: using a single letter to represent the most frequently used word in the English language, namely “the.” His letter looks like this and he’s spent £23,500 on a promotional app to demonstrate its usefulness. “The word ‘and’ is only the fifth-most used word in English, and it has its own symbol – the ampersand,” he argues. “Isn’t it time we accorded the same respect to ‘the’?” 

Yes, Paul, it is, but the English language has had a symbol for “the” for centuries. In Anglo-Saxon writing, it was called the “thorn” (it looked like this – þ) and gave Middle English scholars headaches because there was no ‘þ’ to be found in their printing fonts. So they used “y” instead, which is why we got Ye Olde Copper Kettle and its variants. To Mr Mathis his squiggle is the future. To us it’s the 2nd century AD. Strewth!

Twitter: @JohnHenryWalsh

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Hilary Mantel in 2003 - years before she released a short story, in which she fantasised about the death of Margaret Thatcher  

In what universe is Hilary Mantel's imaginary assassination of Margret Thatcher worthy of police investigation?

Matthew Norman
Noddy Holder must be glad he wrote 'Merry Xmas Everybody' as he'll earn £800,000 this year from royalties.  

Noddy Holder: A true rock ’n’ roll hero, and a role model for sensible people everywhere

Rosie Millard
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam