Is Bruce Ismay Back as Francesco Schettino?

January 19, 2012

By Karen

Cats Working has never covered cruise travel, but the capsizing of Costa Concordia has been dominating the news. As a veteran of nearly 40 cruises, I have to weigh in.

I think Captain Francesco Schettino is the reincarnation of Bruce Ismay.

Ismay was the managing director of the White Star Line. He was on Titanic’s maiden voyage, demanding she make record time to New York in spite of numerous warnings of ice ahead. We all know how that turned out.

Ismay jumped into a lifeboat while women and children were drowning, and spent the rest of his life in disgrace, regretting he survived.

In Schettino’s case, it may turn out that his u-turn into the shallows after his ship was gashed open and took a huge boulder in the gut may have saved the lives of those who were able to swim to shore.

But his quick thinking in that one moment is negated by the arrogance that led him to deliberately endanger the vessel in the first place. And he’s been lying about every action he took ever since.

He’s claimed he did it to honor a retired captain, Mario Polombo, who lives on the island of Giglio, and that they were on the phone together when the ship hit the rocks.

Polombo has said he wasn’t on the island that night. Wouldn’t he have mentioned that to Schettino?

What Schettino hasn’t said is that he also did it to impress a maître d’ from Giglio. Probably unbeknownst to Schettino, the maître d’s sister posted on Facebook in the hour before that the ship would come really close.

When the ship began to founder, Schettino claimed at first that he was thrown overboard.

If so, he must have climbed back onboard, because he told a judge in court Tuesday that he was helping passengers into a lifeboat when he tripped and fell into the lifeboat himself.

The lifeboats aren’t open like those on Titanic. They have roofs. It’s hard to imagine someone tripping into one. Not to mention that Schettino’s 2nd and 3rd in command happened to trip into the same boat with him.

And we’ve probably all heard the conversation between Schettino and Coast Guard Captain De Falco where Schettino suddenly turned dumb about how to board his ship.

In all the picture’s we’ve seen of Schettino, he’s wearing a dark sweater and coat — civvies. What happened to his uniform? Was he given dry clothes on shore because he’d been in the water? Or did he return to his cabin to change because he didn’t want to stand out with his 4 stripes while his ship was erupting into pandemonium?

Costa initially supported Schettino, while admitting human error was involved. But if worldwide outrage makes them ultimately let the Italian courts have their way with Schettino, who could blame them?

An excellent site for following developments in this story, often before the media knows them, is A CC member from Australia who survived the capsizing provided a thorough report of her experience the very next morning, and you’ll find many links to international news stories. You don’t have to join it to read.

Concordia passengers have been comparing this to Titanic, and it’s a fair assessment as far as their terror goes, but the loss of 11 lives (or 34, if the 23 who remain missing didn’t make it) is a far cry from a tragedy where only a third of the souls onboard managed to survive, and the rest drowned in waters over 2 miles deep.

My RMS Titanic Connection

April 14, 2011

By Karen

The 99th anniversary of Titanic’s sinking seems like an appropriate time to share my own little Who Do You Think You Are tale…

You know the backstory: the “unsinkable” White Star liner, Titanic, scraped an iceberg on a clear, cold night on April 15, 1912, and sank in the North Atlantic, killing more than 1,500 people

I’m an ocean liner buff and, in 1999, got to sail through the area where Titanic went down. My ship actually stopped dead in mid-ocean to hold a somber ceremony for the lost souls, officiated by the captain and the noted maritime historian, John Maxtone-Graham.

One night years after that, I was reading another book about the ship and was stunned to see, for the first time, the name “Frederick Wormald” listed as a victim.

Google quickly revealed that he was a crew member and is buried in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I left it at that.

But earlier this year, a friend happened upon a gravestone in Massachusetts that turned out to belong to my great- and great-great grandfathers. That’s when I decided to find out if Frederick was anywhere in my family tree. traces the Wormalds back 7 generations. I believe with 98% certainty that Frederick Wormald was the son of my great-great-great uncle, William Wormald, who was born in Yorkshire, England, in 1829.

William’s data is weirdly sketchy. If I could only find out his wife’s name (I think it was Annie Elizabeth), I’d be certain he was Frederick’s father.

But back to Frederick…

Frederick William Wormald was born in 1876, married a woman named Emily Hitchen, and they had 6 children. On April 4, 1912, Frederick’s employer of 4 years, the White Star Line, transferred him to Titanic to serve as a 1st class saloon steward.

Frederick’s body was recovered on April 24 by the Halifax-based British cable repair ship CS Mackay-Bennett. He was wearing an overcoat, and underneath it a white steward’s uniform showing the name “A. Wormald.”

He was taken to Halifax and misidentified as Jewish. On May 3, he was buried in the Jewish Baron de Hirsch Cemetery, where he remains to this day.

Meanwhile, back in Southampton, after Emily surmised Frederick must be dead (he was in the water, unaccounted for, for 9 days), the White Star Line allowed her and the children to sail third-class to New York on Titanic’s sister ship, Olympic. I’m not sure why, since Frederick was dead in Canada. When they got to Ellis Island, they were back by the authorities because Emily had “no visible means of support.”

Can you believe that?

The family returned to England on Olympic, only to find that their rented house in Southampton had been re-let in their absence. Fortunately, neighbors managed to salvage and store most of their things until they found another house. They received some compensation from the Titanic Disaster Fund, but their trail went cold after 1915.

(Thanks to Brian Ticehurst, who published these details on

Since notable Wormalds don’t pop up every day, I was amazed that my family, even distantly, had anything to do with the most famous ship-sinking ever.

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