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Updated: Mon, 10 Feb 2014 15:49:06 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Bounty captain Robin Walbridge's 'reckless decision' blamed for sinking



U.S. Coast Guard

U.S. Coast Guard

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board has ruled the captain's "reckless decision to sail into the well-forecasted path of Hurricane Sandy" was the probable cause for the high-profile sinking of the Nova Scotia-built HMS Bounty in 2012.

The NTSB released its report on Monday.

The replica ship sank 145 kilometres off the coast of Cape Hatteras, N.C., during the storm on Oct. 29, 2012 in winds gusting up to 160 km/h.

"Although this wooden ship was modelled after an 18th century vessel, the captain had access to 21st century hurricane modelling tools that predicted the path and severity of Hurricane Sandy," said NTSB chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman.

"The Bounty's crew was put into an extraordinarily hazardous situation through decisions that by any measure didn't prioritize safety."

As the 16 crew members scrambled to get to covered life-rafts, Capt. Robin Walbridge, 63, deckhand Claudene Christian, 42, and another crew member were washed overboard. Christian's body was recovered shortly after, while Walbridge was never found.

The third person who was washed overboard made it to a life-raft and was among the 14 people hoisted onto helicopters and taken to shore.

Prior to setting off from New London, Conn., some of the crew members expressed concerns to the captain that "sailing into a severe storm could put all of them and the ship at risk," the NTSB report stated.

Walbridge assured the crew that the Bounty could handle the rough seas and that the voyage would be a success.

'Mostly inexperienced crew'

Just a month earlier, in an interview with a Maine TV station, Walbridge said that the Bounty "chased hurricanes," and by getting close to the eye of the storm, sailors could use hurricane winds to their advantage.

The 16-page report details how the "mostly inexperienced crew" — some of whom were injured in falls aboard the ship, others seasick and fatigued from being thrown about the vessel in nine-metre seas — struggled for hours to keep engines and bilge pumps running in order to prevent the ship from sinking.

In its final hours, the Bounty took on about three metres of sea water in a 3½-day voyage the NTSB says "should never have been attempted."

Before setting sail in October 2012 the Bounty had undergone maintenance and repairs, most of which were performed by an inexperienced crew with little understanding of the specialized work, according to the NTSB report.

"One of their tasks was to caulk and reseam a wooden hull, which had known areas of rot, with compounds supplied by the captain, including a silicone sealant marketed for household use," said an NTSB news release.

The NTSB also pointed out in its report that the company responsible for the ship, HMS Bounty Organization, LLC, "did nothing to dissuade the captain from sailing into known severe weather conditions."

The board said that oversight contributed to the ship's sinking.

The ship was built in Lunenburg, N.S., for the 1962 film Mutiny on the Bounty and appeared in other seafaring dramas. It was sailing from Connecticut for Florida when it sank.

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