Coast Guard investigates tall ship tragedy
A casualty of Hurricane Sandy, HMS Bounty founders before sinking off North Carolina in this dramatic Coast Guard cellphone image.
The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating the sinking of HMS Bounty approximately 90 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, N.C., on Oct. 29, 2012, during Hurricane Sandy. The sinking came several hours following the crew’s decision to abandon ship after the vessel’s engines failed and the vessel began taking on water in heavy seas. The 180-foot HMS Bounty was lost and the Coast Guard rescued 14 of the 16 crewmembers. The two fatalities include deck hand Claudene Christian, 42, and Capt. Robin Walbridge, 63. Christian’s body was recovered, but Walbridge remains missing and is presumed dead.
Lt. Mike Patterson, external affairs officer for the Coast Guard 5th District Marine Inspections and Investigations Branch, said an investigation is common practice after there is a loss of life related to a marine incident.
“The purpose of this investigation, a district formal investigation, is to thoroughly review the cause of the accident, to make a full determination of the cause and any contributing factors — whether negligence, equipment failure, misconduct or failure of a propulsion system or equipment — if any of those things contributed to a casualty, the purpose of this investigation would be to identify that,” said Patterson.
It is unclear why Capt. Walbridge chose to depart Connecticut for St. Petersburg, Fla., with a major hurricane approaching, but the ship’s website indicates that the HMS Bounty organization had a dockside event planned in St. Petersburg for Nov. 10 and 11. Bounty’s owner of record, Bob Hansen said that Walbridge was aware of the storm and was heading east to try to avoid it. “I don’t really question his judgment. He knows the ship, he’s been captain of her for over 20 years,” Hansen said in comments to Fox News.
HMS Bounty was built in 1961 by Smith & Rhuland of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, as a disposable prop for MGM’s 1962 film Mutiny on the Bounty which starred Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard.
Following the filming, the vessel was used as a promotional venue and permanently berthed in St. Petersburg, Fla., where it remained until the mid-1980s. It was then acquired by Ted Turner. In 1993, Turner donated the ship to the Fall River Chamber Foundation of Massachusetts. The ship was operated as a educational platform via the Tall Ship Bounty Foundation. In 2001, the HMS Bounty Organization LLC purchased it.
Over the years the 50-year-old ship has undergone renovation and restoration, which includes the replacement of planking. It has also been for sale through Eastern Yachts, a U.K.-based broker. Most recently, it was hauled at the Boothbay Harbor Shipyard in Maine and launched Oct. 22, 2012.
According to Patterson, at the time of the sinking, HMS Bounty was sailing as a documented recreational vessel and did not hold a Certificate of Inspection. The organization’s website states that Walbridge was seeking to have Bounty certified as a Sailing School Vessel.