Gregorio de Falco was praised for ordering stricken ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino, to get back on board
He was the Italian hero to Francesco Schettino’s villain: a coastguard official who, in the days after the Costa Concordia disaster, became a symbol of responsibility in nation that was horrified by the allegedly reckless behaviour of the cruise ship’s captain. On Thursday Italians were yet again engaged in a collective frenzy over straight-talking Gregorio de Falco.
The 50-year-old has said he is being transferred out of operational service at the Livorno coastguard and into administrative duties, prompting anger among those who remember his bracing words to Schettino on the night of the tragedy and despair over a country that they say does not know how to treat its heroes.
After recordings of the heated dialogue between De Falco and Costa Concordia’s skipper were released the coastguard official was hailed as “the voice of duty” by newspaper La Repubblica, in which 32 people died. His command “Vada a bordo, cazzo!” (“Get on board, for fuck’s sake!” was even emblazoned on T-shirts.
Federico Gelli, an MP in Italy’s centre-left Democratic party called for the reasons for De Falco’s transfer to be investigated.
“In the news media of the world he became the symbol of the Italy that tries to portray a different image from a disaster of this kind. This removal … deserves public clarification, even if to dispel potential suspicions that it is connected with the trial going on in Grosseto.”
In that trial, Schettino faces charges including multiple manslaughter and abandoning ship, which he denies.
A row erupted in August at Rome’s Sapienza University after it emerged Schettino had been invited to address a seminar organised by one of its professors. As the Costa Concordia was towed away from Giglio this summer, photographs emerged of the former captain partying on the island of Ischia.
“We are a country that rewards the Schettinos and punishes the De Falcos. That prefers buffoons to those who quietly get on with the job,” wrote one Twitter user, @mariogiordano5, as the hashtag #DeFalco trended.
“Italy punishes its best men,” commented another, @francofontana43.
In an interview with La Repubblica, De Falco said he was saddened by the transfer, which he had not requested.