Disasters: Going, Going . . .

A captain's flight from his doomed ship raises a debate about traditions of the sea

The order to abandon ship automatically presupposes two rules: women and children first, and the captain is last to leave or goes down with his vessel. Romanticized in novels and films, as well as history, the maxims seem almost to have the force of law. Thus, though all 571 people aboard the Greek cruise liner Oceanos survived its spectacular sinking off the coast of South Africa last week, the ship's captain, Yiannis Avranas, has been widely castigated as both cowardly and irresponsible. Avranas, 51, left the Oceanos by rescue helicopter, while some 160 passengers, including several elderly and infirm, still awaited...

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