Local News

US Coast Guard to investigate tall ship's sinking

Posted November 2, 2012
Updated January 10, 2013

— The U.S. Coast Guard has opened a formal investigation to determine what exactly caused a famous tall ship to sink off the North Carolina coast Monday.

A member of the 16-person HMS Bounty crew died and the captain is missing after the three-mast vessel went down in the turbulent waters caused by Hurricane Sandy.

Search crews spent more than 90 hours this week covering approximately 12,000 nautical miles in the Atlantic Ocean looking for the ship's captain, Robin Walbridge, 63, who ordered his crew to abandon ship after the Bounty began taking on water and its engines failed.

The Coast Guard rescued 14 crew members Monday morning and found Claudene Christian, 42, unresponsive Monday afternoon. She died at a hospital in Elizabeth City later that day.

Rescuers suspended their search for Walbridge Thursday evening.

According to the Coast Guard, a formal investigation will involve collecting evidence and testimony to determine whether the ship had any equipment failure. In addition to finding the cause of the accident, it will also look at whether there was any act of misconduct or negligence.

A hearing has been scheduled for Feb. 12-21 in Portsmouth.

The National Transportation Safety Board is also participating in the investigation.

Walbridge was a longtime experienced sailor who had been in a lot of storms, according to those who knew him.

When the Bounty set sail last week in an effort to protect the ship from Hurricane Sandy and the forecasted 12-foot tidal surge, Walbridge believed he could navigate the ship around the storm.

After two days in rough seas though, he realized his journey would be far more difficult, according to posts on the HMS Bounty's Facebook page.


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  • shortcake53 Nov 2, 2012

    Thanks Triumph, thats what I thought happened. Just too much to overcome.

  • Crayzee1 Nov 2, 2012

    The neat thing about the a ship in a harbor and a ship in the ocean. the crew can safely get off the ship in the harbor BEFORE the storm hits.

  • Croc Nov 2, 2012

    This part of the coast of NC is known as "the graveyard of the Atlantic" for good reason. More than a thousand wrecks have been recorded over four hundred years.

  • Triumph Nov 2, 2012

    Here's a news scoop on the US Coast Guard's findings - the ship sank due to hurricane-generated waves flooding the engine room beyond the ship's ability to pump it out. Followed by a stalled ship and dead engines that could not steer, and eventual sinking.

  • BernsteinIII Nov 2, 2012

    Um, they sailed into a hurricane on purpose. That's pretty much it.

  • sunshine1040 Nov 2, 2012

    And if the ship stayed in port there is a very good chance that it would have damaged both the dock and ship and any body that wanted to stay on board during a hurricane. Sorry two lives were lost but some men and women want to see what the sea is like during a storm just as we have airplanes that fry to the eye of a storm.

  • btneast Nov 2, 2012

    took chances because it didn't want to miss a festival.

    Keep in mind , a harbor that is experiencing a hurricane is more dangerous than being at sea in a hurricane for a boat like that. No one wants to sail into a hurricane, but even fewer want to be in a harbor that is expecting a hurricane to hit it.

  • NotAgain Nov 2, 2012

    Got to figure out who can sue whom I guess. Show me the $$

  • NCraised Nov 2, 2012

    The captain may have been through storms before with the ship but let's not assume because the boat didn't sink before that it was a wise choice to continue pressing his luck. The ship was a 50 year old replica of a 200+ year old ship. Even adding the 2 engines the ship in itself is not designed to the standards of todays vessels. Not to mention that he was with an inexperienced crew and it's not like it's a working boat. Plenty of crews risk their lives to earn a living at sea. It's part of the job and a risk they knowingly take. This ship was a sailing museum that took chances because it didn't want to miss a festival. There is definitely blame to be had.

  • seankelly15 Nov 2, 2012

    dad6 - "I must be missing something..."

    yes, you are.... Your comment is as backward as saying, "gee, why waste the money finding out why that plane crashed".