Captain at fault in HMS Bounty sinking

RALEIGH, N.C. — The main reason a replica 18th century ship sank during Superstorm Sandy in 2012 was because the captain and management of the HMS Bounty made a bad decision to sail into the storm, a U.S. Coast Guard report said Thursday, echoing the conclusions of other federal investigators before them.

Although the inadequate preparation of the crew and the ship were also factors, “most critical was the failure of the Bounty’s management and master to exercise effective oversight and risk management,” the report said.

One crewmember died and Capt. Robin Walbridge was lost at sea and is presumed dead after the three-mast ship sank 90 miles off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

The vessel was built for the 1962 film “Mutiny on the Bounty” starring Marlon Brando. The ship also appeared in one of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. When not in use by moviemakers, the ship was a pier-side attraction for visitors in ports and also served as an educational ship used to teach people how to sail.

The report said the HMS Bounty Organization chose to meet only the lesser standards of a recreational vessel, not the tougher requirements of a passenger craft.

The Bounty could have been certified as a small passenger or sailing-school vessel, but “the Bounty’s management decided against taking the steps necessary to meet the minimum safety requirements that would have applied with such certification in favor of the less stringent recreational standards.”

The report recommends that Coast Guard leadership review policy on the staffing and operation of such show vessels.

A phone number for the ship’s parent organization in East Setauket, New York, was disconnected Thursday. The Bounty was owned by Robert Hansen. A woman answering the phone at Hansen’s home said he was not available and would not take a message.

A National Transportation Safety Board report in February concluded that Walbridge made a reckless decision to sail the HMS Bounty into the hurricane’s well-forecast path.

The 108-foot-long ship set sail from New London, Connecticut, for St. Petersburg, Florida, Oct. 25, 2012, a day after Sandy reached hurricane strength. The plan was for the Bounty to arrive in St. Petersburg for a Nov. 10 event. But early in the morning of Oct. 29, 2012, the ship sank after taking on more than 10 feet of water. Crew members had to swim for their lives in the dark when the ship overturned.

The NTSB report noted that the wooden vessel took on water even in good sailing conditions and some wood rot also had been recently discovered on the ship. Workers at a Maine shipyard where the Bounty had received repairs testified during a joint Coast Guard and NTSB hearing last year that the ship had a decaying frame with an undetermined amount of rot in it before leaving port weeks before it sank.

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