It is the oldest unwritten "law" of the sea– The Captain goes down with his ship". But although Captain Smith did go down with the Titanic 100 years ago, it is not usually taken literally. What it really means is that the Captain is the last to leave a sinking vessel after the passengers' and crew memembers' safety has been assured, as much as possible.
Apparently the Captain of the cruise ship Costa Concordia, Francesco Schittino, did not agree. Not only did he exhibit extremely bad judgement and poor seamanship in running his mega ship aground with over 4000 people aboard, early reports are that he abandoned his vessel in a life boat around 12:30 a.m. Saturday when the last of his passengers who got off alive did so some 6 hours later.
Worse, it is now clear that his !st Officer was in the life boat with him and that he refused to return to his ship after he was ordered back by the shore based Italian Coast Guard which was in charge of the rescue effort. Italian Coast Guard Captain Gregorio De Falco shouted over the radio to him: "What are you doing? Are you abandoning the rescue? Get back on board now. That's an order! Don't make any more excuses!" In the recording Schettino apparently insisted that nearly everyone was off the ship when the Coast Guard said several hundred were still trapped aboard.
Captain Schittino was ordered to steer his life boat back to the ship and go back aboard but he refused saying the ship was listing and it was dark. Captain De Falco shouted back: "And so what? You want to go home Schettino? It is dark and you want to go home? Get on that prow of the boat using the pilot ladder and tell me what can be done, how many people there are and what their needs are. Now!" Schettino agreed to reboard the ship but the Coast Guard said he never returned.
The Italian police arrested him ashore. Prosecutors call his actions "Reckless, cowardly, and deadly".
As a graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, and former Commanding Officer of two Coast Guard cutters I am appalled and outraged at the conduct of Schittino. I hesitate to refer to him as "Captain" anymore and I believe he has forfeited the privilege to be called by that title.