NTSB blames Bounty sinking on captain's recklessness
Posted February 10, 2014
Washington — The captain of the HMS Bounty recklessly sailed into the path of Hurricane Sandy, causing the famed tall ship to sink off the North Carolina coast, killing the captain and one crew member, according to a report released Monday by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The NTSB also determined that the Bounty was understaffed and that its crew was too inexperienced to handle the rough seas it encountered near Cape Hatteras.
When the Bounty began taking on water and its engines failed on Oct. 29, 2012, the 16-member crew abandoned ship. The Coast Guard rescued 14 crew members and pulled the body of mate Claudene Christian from the ocean.
Robin Walbridge, the Bounty's captain, was never found, despite a four-day search that covered 12,000 nautical miles, and he is presumed dead.
NTSB investigators said Walbridge tried to outrun the hurricane as it headed from New London, Conn., to St. Petersburg, Fla., and cut across the storm's path to take advantage of the trailing winds to the west of the eye.
"What everyone, especially the captain and senior crew, seemingly failed to anticipate was the damaging effect that prolonged exposure to the storm would have on the wooden vessel," the report states.
Water was coming into the Bounty so fast in the 36 hours before the crew abandoned ship that the bilge pumps were overwhelmed, crew members told investigators. The port engine failed, and the crew couldn't restart it, and the starboard engine later shorted out, cutting all electrical power to the ship.
Investigators noted that the Bounty's pumps had given the crew difficulty when it was under repair at a Maine shipyard and again when it was moored at New London, but Walbridge never tested them to ensure they were working properly before sailing toward the hurricane.
The Bounty usually sails with a crew of 20 to 25 people but had only 16 people aboard, and the report noted that 10 crew members had worked on the ship six months or less.
Several crew members were injured in falls as the Bounty was buffeted by 90-mph winds and 30-foot waves. Others were constantly seasick and couldn't get any rest, the NTSB report notes.
Crew members told investigators that Walbridge delayed in calling for Coast Guard assistance and then refused to abandon ship until the Bounty heeled over onto its starboard side, throwing the crew into the water in total darkness.
"To set sail into an approaching hurricane introduced needless risk. Further, most of the crewmembers were inexperienced, and their complement was smaller than usual," the NTSB report concludes.
The agency also cited the Bounty's owners for not trying to talk Walbridge out of sailing into the storm.