The recent tragic events surrounding the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia, which ran aground and capsized off the island of Giglio earlier this month, have shown the power of the host-as-leader metaphor. The captain, Francesco Schettino, is under house arrest accused, amongst other things, of abandoning the ship while hundreds of passengers remained on board. Schettino’s claims that he fell into a lifeboat will no doubt be examined by a court in due course.
One of the most interesting things about this case is the absolute outcry – from pretty much all parties – at the captain’s actions after the ship was damaged. Although the idea of the captain being last to leave the ship is not formally part of international maritime law (see for example this article), it’s so much a part of the tradition that captains, and the rest of us, take it as part of the code.
There is an old Arabic proverb which says ‘the host is both the first and the last’. I think this shows very strongly in this case. The Captain is clearly the host in so many ways. He has responsibility for his guests (the passengers) while setting out into potentially unknown and dangerous conditions. He provides for them, while also dining with them (dining at the captain’s table is a key part of seafaring and cruising tradition). And while they honour him and he has privileges, he is ultimately the sources of final resort when aid is required.
It’s very interesting how widely this is understood, on a very instinctive and ‘gut’ level, by so many people. I wonder if Captain Schettino might have been a hero, rather than a villain, had he remained on board, got everyone off safely, and been winched off the ship at the last moment with a broken leg having been trapped (as happened to the ship’s cabin service director Manrico Giampedroni). Giampedroni seems to have had a perfect idea of host leadership.