This is an interview with Pier Luigi Foschi, Chairman of Costa Crociere, published o9n the website of the Milan based daily Corriere della Sera:
By one of our correspondents
ISOLA DEL GIGLIO (Grosseto) - How are you, chairman?
“I’m not being rhetorical when I say I’m going through the most distressing period in my life since my mother’s death"
Speaking in a low voice to hide his emotions, Costa Cruises number one Pier Luigi Foschi seems to have all the weight of a terrible week on his shoulders: at the cruise company there are bereavements to work through before financial penalties to pay.
A sense of remorse?
“You work together, following strict principles and laws. But then there’s the human factor. Like in certain comedy films starring Edoardo De Filippo, you carry on doing your best and then... some idiot appears on the scene.”
"... I mean the human factor.”
Precisely. The entire world is asking itself how on earth you could choose Schettino to be the master of one of your ships.
“There are procedures to follow. First second in command. Then a committee assesses promotion to first in command. The Harbour Office also has to give its endorsement."
Any suspicions over the captain‟s unreliability?
“He has always been regarded as extremely valid from a technical standpoint... but he may have the odd little character problem, although nothing has ever been reported formally."
The odd little problem?
“He was seen as being a little hard on his colleagues. He liked to be in the limelight."
1There are 68 minutes between when you were alerted about the accident and the start of evacuation operations. Did you put pressure on Schettino to hurry up or not?
“If it’s true, a delay of more than an hour is neither normal nor justifiable."
Schettino spoke by telephone with Ferrarini, the manager of your crisis unit. When?
“At 22.05. Twenty minutes after the accident if what I read in the newspapers is correct. Too long."
During that hour the ship was upright. You could have saved many lives.
“I don’t sleep at night over it. The ship wasn’t upright. But if it had been abandoned earlier, we wouldn’t have lost any human lives."
Ferrarini spoke to Schettino. Is it correct that he told him to “hurry up”?
“I don’t know. We know what the captain said to Ferrarini because it was recorded on board. Ferrarini was listening. The code of shipping places absolute power in the hands of the captain and owners can’t intervene to change decisions."
But isn‟t it true that in the event of trauma during a voyage, such as for example an emergency disembarkation at night, compensation amounts to ten thousand euros per passenger? Which adds up to thirty million euros in the case of the Concordia. Isn‟t that perhaps enough to make the captain think twice about a hurried evacuation?
“We have no precedents of this type. I can assure you absolutely that no one was thinking in financial terms, which would have been in contravention of our code of ethics."
Did Schettino talk to anyone else in the company?
“I don’t exclude it."
And did you talk to anyone else on the ship?
“Yes. To Manrico Giampedroni, the purser and our hero, as well as to others, I believe."
When did you realise the full extent of the disaster?
“Only when the signal to evacuate the ship was given."
Were you deceived?
“We have filed suit as injured party. And we have sent a letter of suspension to Schettino in order to start the procedure."
But you retained his lawyer. Why?
“We’re dealing with human beings. But he’ll pay his legal fees."
At the end of the day, did Schettino lie to you or not?
“There’s an investigation underway. Personally I believe he hasn’t been honest with us. But I have no evidence to say whether or not he was lucid."
Had he been drinking or taking drugs?
“I think he was emotionally affected. He was watching his creature, the ship, sink before his eyes”.
What was the role of captain Palombo that night?
“He first spoke with Schettino. Then he called our general director Onorato. This was at 22.25. Onorato called me. I think that as a captain with many years’ service at Costa, Palombo felt as though he were in some way to blame."
Also because of the „sail-by salute‟?
“I think you mean what we call tourist navigation, in which you try to get close to the coast, but always in safe conditions.
“Look, in Today, the on board newspaper, we announced that that day we would be sailing past Giglio at a distance of five miles. It’s down in writing, I’ll send it to you by email if you like."
Of course. But you will have heard about different practices...
“I can’t exclude that ships have been sailed closer to land on the initiative of some captains without informing us. But I have never been aware of this taking place in an unsafe manner."
The lists of missing passengers are a puzzle... Were there unregistered passengers on board?
The famous young Moldavian woman who has talked about Schettino...
“She is a Russian-speaking hostess who worked for us for two months before disembarking. Then she came back on board on the 13th as a normally registered passenger. I have the documents to produce for the magistrates."
A friend of Schettino?
“I don’t know."
It has been said that the crew were unprepared.
“Our training courses are the best there are."
That night the crew were left alone. Schettino, the second in command and the officers were all in the lifeboat...
“The reasons why Schettino left the ship are still to be determined. Perhaps he really did trip and fall into the lifeboat. This is corroborated by other witnesses. But then of course he could have tried to climb back on board."
Costa Cruises, too much glamour and not enough safety?
“We don’t scrimp on signalling, safety and supervision systems. But we are, of course, in the business of making dreams come true."
Or nightmares in this case. Lessons to learn?
“To replicate on land the system of sounds and signals when a ship deviates from its route: we have to know this earlier. And to work with the government so that captains no longer have absolute power. A more collegiate form of management on the bridge would be better."
Are you afraid for the future of your company?
(Silence. Then a strangled sob). “Questions like this make me cry. Of course I’m afraid. But I’m counting on the loyalty of our customers. We will resist. We will get still better. And something like this won’t happen again. Ever again."
“We could have saved everyone after the collision.”
The code of shipping needs to be changed and warning signals replicated on land.”
“This is the worst period in my life after the death of my mother. I don’t sleep at night over it.”
More than two million passengers (2.15 to be precise) were carried by Costa Cruises in 2010, an 18% rise on the previous year.
The group has offices in 14 countries and its ships cruise to 14 destinations: from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean, from the Norwegian fjords to the Red Sea, and from the Orient to transatlantic voyages.
Ships in the fleet
The company has 26 cruise ships with a total capacity of 65,300 guests. By the end of 2016 six more units will join the fleet, bringing the total to 32.
Over the last five years both turnover and profits have increased constantly. In 2010 the group reported turnover of 2.9 billion euros, a 12.1% increase on the previous year.