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Going down with the ship? Not so much… Old tradition seems to have “died” with recent ship disasters.

South Korean ferry "Sewol"I don’t know about you but I “always heard” that the captain went down with the ship but recent disasters have shown that perhaps that isn’t in the “captain rulebook” anymore!  As demonstrated in two high-profile ship sinking’s – the Costa Concordia (Captain Francesco Schettino) and the recent Korean Ferry disaster (Captain Lee Jun-seok)…perhaps those men skipped that day at captain school!

In both cases, the captains were one of the first off the ship, literally!  These men were the the first to flee a sinking vessel, placing their own life ahead of those of passengers who they have sworn to protect. Maritime experts called the abandonment shocking — violating a proud international (and South Korean) tradition of stewardship based at least as much on accepted codes of behavior as by law.

The death toll in the South Korean accident stood at 58 as of Sunday, with 244 missing…many of them high school students.

Most countries do not explicitly state that a captain must be the last person to leave a distressed ship, giving captains the leeway to board lifeboats or nearby ships if they can better command an evacuation from there. South Korea’s law, however, appears to be explicit, allowing the authorities to arrest Mr. Lee for abandoning the boat and its passengers in a time of crisis. An international maritime treaty known as the Safety of Life at Sea — first adopted in 1914 after the Titanic disaster — makes a ship’s captain responsible for the safety of his vessel and everyone on board. A later version of the treaty said that passengers should be able to evacuate within 30 minutes of a general alarm.

The United States Navy’s rules are more explicit than ones for commercial ships. Navy rules dating to 1814 require a captain to remain and go onto state that “If it becomes necessary to abandon the ship, the commanding officer should be the last person to leave.”

Obviously, these two captains didn’t share that same sentiment.

Planning a summer cruise?  You might want to ask the cruise line what there policy is in such matters. Let me know what they say!

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