Last year I wrote about the conviction for manslaughter of a group of seismologists in the Italian courts for their predictions related to the L'Aquila earthquake. Now the Italian courts have upped the ante.
Five employees of the Costa Crociere SpA cruise company have been convicted on multiple counts of manslaughter related to the wreck of the Costa Concordia. Two bridge officers and the helmsman were sentenced to 20 to 23 months in prison (the captain will be tried separately) and the Concordia's cabin services manager received two years and six months. However, the company's crisis coordinator received the longest sentence: two years and ten months.
Sentences under two years were suspended and the longer sentences replaced with house arrest.
Now one must be careful about drawing assumptions because there are no details on why the crisis coordinator was tried and convicted. It is unclear whether he was on the vessel and responsible for deaths through negligence or merely developed emergency plans for the company. The court's reasoning behind the verdicts will be released within 90 days.
However, the sentence does have a certain consistency with the L'Aquila verdict on the part of the Italian courts: a tendency to blame planners as well as those actually responsible for the incident. As did the L'Aquila verdict, the conviction of a crisis coordinator raises an interesting question of responsibility. Since most crisis coordinators have limited authority both in planning and executing emergency plans, should they be held accountable for inadequate planning in a court of law? Or does the true responsibility lie with the organization for which they work? In the case of the Costa Concordia, Costa Crociere avoided criminal prosecution through the payment of 1 million Euro fine.
If this is becomes a trend in other countries, it makes the use of standards and program documentation critical. Professional practices are not just the right thing to do, they may be your sole defence if you're called to account for your stewardship.