In reality, there is no law of the sea that requires the captain to remain to the end. Avranas, backed by his employers, argued that communications were so bad on board that the evacuation was best directed from land. But he did not help his cause with statements he made immediately after the disaster. "When I order abandon ship, it doesn't matter what time I leave," he said. "Abandon is for everybody. If some people like to stay, they can stay."
Avranas' "crime" was failing to fit the mold of tradition, exemplified by, among others, Captain E.J. Smith of the Titanic. Smith exhorted those who remained on board the doomed liner to "Be British!," made sure women and children left first, and did go down with his ship (along with about 1,500 others).
Such nautical chivalry, however, began only in Victorian times. Previously, women were tossed overboard in emergencies so that men could have a greater supply of rations. The modern ideal has its own rough edges. On the Titanic, "women and children first" was enforced by guns. "Children" often excluded little boys, who were expected to be little men. And immigrant women and children in steerage didn't qualify for the noblesse oblige above decks.
Going down with the ship may in some way have been an escape. After all, Smith had boasted, "I cannot conceive of any disaster happening to this vessel." Betrayal by the sea, however, can be punishment enough for a mariner. Pelted by critics, Avranas said last week, "I have lost my own ship. What more can they want?"