Good captain/bad captain: Morality tale in a tragedy

  • Article by: HANNS-JOCHEN KAFFSACK , Deutsche Presse-Agentur
  • Updated: January 18, 2012 - 8:37 PM

Coast Guard Capt. Gregorio De Falco

Photo: Giacomo Aprili, Associated Press

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ROME - The captain of the capsized Costa Concordia, Francesco Schettino, has made worldwide headlines as the "man to hate" after seemingly abandoning his cruise ship and leaving passengers to fend for themselves.

But a new hero has emerged as well and is proving to be the man of the moment in Italy.

He is Coast Guard Capt. Gregorio De Falco, 46, the Livorno port chief who was on duty when the ship ran aground off the Tuscan island of Giglio.

Outraged by the events unfolding on that fateful night, De Falco yelled to the captain: "Go back aboard, damn it!" (T-shirts bearing the phrase in Italian have begun popping up across Italy.)

Media all over the world have carried his urgent demands along with Schettino's puzzling and evasive replies.

Italian social networks on the Internet are singing the praises of De Falco, who coordinated the initial rescue effort.

The tragedy had made De Falco "burst into tears with anger," his commanding officer told the Rome-based daily La Repubblica. "Yes, I'm crying," De Falco was quoted as saying. "But I don't think I'm being weak. Compassion is not weakness."

His attitude is in stark contrast to that of the captain now being blamed for the disaster and facing possible charges. Unable to conceal his anger on the night of the accident, De Falco told Schettino: "Go aboard and tell me how many people are on board -- whether there are women and children and people in need."

A volley of expletives and threats followed as he tried to get Schettino to obey.

Headlines appeared on Twitter such as, "De Falco for president" and "Saint now!"

De Falco himself said modestly: "My voice in Livorno was that of all seafarers."

"Please stop talking about me," Italian media quoted him as saying. "It is my job to save lives."

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