published Friday, January 27th, 2012

Women and children weren't first in Costa Concordia disaster

The deadly capsizing of a cruise ship off the Italian coast would have been tragic under any circumstances. But the horror was compounded by allegations that the captain abandoned the ship while many passengers were still on board -- and refused to return to the ship from a lifeboat even when repeatedly ordered to do so by the Italian Coast Guard.

What has gone little noticed, however, is that the captain's alleged behavior in the disaster -- which as of this writing has claimed well over a dozen lives -- apparently was not isolated.

Passengers told reporters that many men on the ship shoved their way past women and children to save themselves.

"Fights broke out to get into the lifeboats, men refused to prioritise women, expectant mothers and children as they pushed themselves forward to escape," London's Daily Mail reported. "Crew ignored their passengers -- leaving 'chefs and waiters' to help out."

A British grandmother who was on the ship told the newspaper, "There was no 'women and children first' policy. There were big men, crew members, pushing their way past us to get into the lifeboats. It was disgusting."

She added, "I want everyone to know how badly some people behaved. It was a nightmare. I lost my daughter and my grandchildren in the chaos. I was standing by the lifeboats and men, big men, were banging into me and knocking the girls. It was awful. There was a total lack of organization. There was no one telling people where to go. And when we finally got into a lifeboat, people, grown men, were trying to jump into the boat. I thought, if they land in here we are going to capsize."

There were some acts of heroism in the chaos as well. But in many cases the long-standing principle of "women and children first" was abandoned, and that does not speak well of our modern society.

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