Modern seagoing vessels are so automated that they manage to get by with, if not exactly skeleton crews, certainly minimal ones. Typically, the bridge will have an officer of the watch, a helmsman and a crew member who doubles as lookout and go-for. The Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia evidently had an additional personage on the bridge, a blonde with a thick Eastern European accent, the night the ship hit an island whose existence mariners had been aware of since before Roman times.
As the captain’s girlfriend, Domnica Cemortan, a 26-year-old Moldovan, had a certain semi-official status. The former captain, Francesco Schettino, is charged with manslaughter in the deaths of 32 people in the grounding off Tuscany in January 2012. Cemortan had worked as a dancer aboard the ship for three weeks in December 2011, and rejoined the ship as a nonpaying passenger that January.
In court testimony, she filled out the answer as to how she came to be aboard the liner without a ticket: “When you are someone’s lover, no one asks you for any explanations.” That might also answer the come-on question in travel ads asking potential passengers how cruise ships fill empty cabins.
Cemortan and the captain were both on the bridge when the Concordia rammed into a reef. She says she ducked into Schettino’s private cabin to change from her dinner dress into more practical clothes. (In addition to the usual cruise clothes, the wise traveler apparently packs “abandon-ship wear” just in case.)
Cemortan thoughtfully rescued the captain’s laptop from his cabin, departed the ship in a lifeboat and returned the computer to him when the couple were safely ashore on the island of Giglio, considerably ahead of the many passengers who were still waiting to leave the marooned Concordia.
Schettino lost his rank, his ship, his job and, since he is married, maybe his wife. Cemortan, meanwhile, is suing him for damages.