A View from Here

Bill's Sisson's weekly Trade Only blog

A master’s duty

Two well-publicized marine accidents — the capsizing of the Italian cruise liner Costa Concordia and the South Korean ferry Sewol — have raised a number of safety questions and concerns, including this one: Must the captain go down with the ship?

It’s a little more complicated than lore might have you believe. The safety of passengers and crew are clearly the primary responsibility of the master. And that’s been supported in court rulings in liability cases and in administrative decisions involving captains accused of negligence, incompetence or misconduct — even if it’s not clearly spelled out in statutory law.

There is growing concern that these accidents and others point to serious lapses in both the judgment and character of the masters. Both captains left their ships before all of the passengers and crew had gotten off. Equally troubling, what do the incidents say about the systems that put the men in command — and allowed them to remain there until catastrophe struck?


The standard of responsible care is much greater for the captain of a cruise liner carrying thousands than for the operator of a 28-foot express cruiser. That’s obvious. But we — the public, and especially the marine community — expect both skippers to act with prudence and care. What happened to the moral responsibility of the captain for the safety of the people under his care?

We take a close look at this in the July issue of Soundings magazine. One of the experts interviewed for the stories is James E. Mercante, head of the admiralty law practice at Rubin, Fiorella & Friedman, where he is a partner.

Click here for an opinion piece by Mercante on the topic for the New York Law Journal. I think you’ll find it interesting.


2 comments on “A master’s duty

  1. Capt. Scott Rhoads

    I have been getting calls from former students and supporters of our program regularly asking me what I think of this boating incident and then that. Though the details of each incident vary, the core datum remains the same.

    A boat never fails it’s crew, the crew failed the boat.

    A boat does not make choices of navigation, provisioning, crew, or anything else. The boat is our stalwart nearly silent servant. It will give it’s all, but counts on us to know the weather, sea state, where the rocks are, both physical and mental capacity of the crew and far more.

    I am amazed that a Captain or skipper who could make the choices to put a boat at risk and then leave prior to making sure that everything possible had been done for both the passengers and crew.

    Whether it is a jet ski or an aircraft carrier or anything in between, the Captain enjoys a great deal of power, support and responsibility.

    We wear four bars with pride, but we have to earn them over and over every day. Stepping off of a boat before the passengers and crew are accounted for is unacceptable.

  2. Clutch Cargo

    I went to Mass Maritime Academy and one of the things I found most distressing about it was the complete lack of leadership training and emphasis on an officer’s responsibility. It was largely missing from the deck training and completely absent if one was studying to be a ship’s Engineering Officer. This aspect of the curriculum had, I surmised, been surgically removed by the Moonbats who ran the state college system. They hated anything even remotely connected with such immutable standards as honor, integrity, selflessness and duty. The military system which was supposed to teach these things was just for show and the lofty words and costumes were just another marketing tool. There were people like myself who took is seriously, but we were a small minority. The result is that I would not let the vast majority of my “classmates” walk my dog, let alone go to sea with them. This is why these things are happening, IMHO.

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