Recent maritime disasters have called into question the long standing tradition of ship captains verifying that all people are safely off the ship before abandoning a sinking ship themselves. The most recent example of this troubling trend came when a South Korean ferry sank recently. Despite the fact that over 300 people are thought to have perished in the disaster, the captain is notably alive and well.
Though captains are not necessarily expected to literally go down with their ships, they are supposed to do everything in their power to help those who are in distress before saving themselves. But recent maritime disasters have seen ship captains abandon time and time again. For example, in another case of tragedy which recently struck a major ocean going vessel, the Costa Concordia in 2012, its captain was famously scolded by an Italian Coast Guard official when it was discovered that the captain was aboard a life boat, fleeing the capsizing ship even as passengers scrambled to get the ship’s other life boats to function properly. 32 people died in that particular disaster.
Whether or not abandoning ship is a crime depends on the laws governing the ship and the captain involved. In the cases of both the most recent tragedy and the Costa Concordia, both captains were under legal duty not to abandon ship as they did. Former captain of the Costa Concordia, Francesco Schettino, is currently undergoing a legal process to determine his guilt or innocence of several charges related to the incident, one of which being abandoning ship. And the captain of the ill-fated South Korean ferry which sank days ago does not seem to be in a position to fare any better. In fact, the president of his country compared the captain’s actions, which included abandoning ship, to murder.