The Costa Concordia, Admiralty, & Karl Barth

The CLR Forum has not posted on the Costa Concordia tragedy—understandably, as its law and religion content is not overt.  Nevertheless, the inevitability of lawsuits arising from the cruise ship’s grounding raises a host of questions related to admiralty and contractual forum selection.  (For example, see this post on Cruise Law News, a site specializing in such issues, and this article from CNN.)

The Costa Concordia grounding’s historical-religious content is similarly relevant.  Printed on  blue cardstock in 1912, a sermon by a young minister and then-budding theological giant named Karl Barth elaborates its significance.

Please follow the jump for more.

Karl Barth’s pamphlet and sermon detailed a shipping disaster: that of the RMS Titanic.  The Titanic sank almost exactly a century before the Costa Concordia ran aground on the Tuscan island of Giglio.  Barth highlighted the White Star Line’s swelling shares (which would swell further should the Titanic cross the Atlantic in the planned and previously unheard-of six days’ time) and the Titanic‘s extravagant accommodations, including grand shopping, luxurious quarters, and lavish meals.

Karl Barth prefaced the text of his sermon with words from Psalms, 103:15–17:  “As for mortals, their days are like grass;/ they flourish like a flower of the field;/ for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,/ and its place knows it no more./  But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting/ on those who fear him,/ and his righteousness to children’s children” (NRSV).  He included details from maritime law:  Witnesses heard gunshots from the imminently sinking vessel, apparently the Titanic captain’s as he went down with his ship.  Yet at the same time, Barth faults the captain for his headlong plunge into the arctic ice fields, a dereliction of his duty to his passengers and crew irrespective of the White Star shareholders’ concerns.  He likewise faults White Star’s president, one of the ship’s passengers and a survivor of the wreck, and calls to account all those who profit from corporate endeavors in disregard of human life.  Thus, Barth’s sermon is, ultimately, a condemnation of corporate greed and the law that countenances it to the expense of human life.

Barth’s sermon proves itself prophetic, not only of the Concordia disaster but of human tragedy throughout the twentieth century.  Legally speaking, it will be relevant to the content of admiralty law (for example, the obligation of Captains never to abandon ship).  I encourage all to take a look at an account of Barth’s sermon here.

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