HMS Bounty sunk in Hurricane Sandy: Coast Guard holds hearing into sinking

6:17 PM, Feb 12, 2013   |    comments
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The Coast Guard hearing on the sinking of the HMS Bounty in October is revealing what went on in the days leading up to the tall ship's demise.

As of noon, we heard testimony from HMS Bounty Chief Mate John Svendsen who says Captain Robin Walbridge assured the crew he was comfortable with his plan to sail despite Hurricane Sandy, noting his work on oil rigs and the Bounty during storms.

Svendsen says Capt. Walbridge gave the crew the option to not sail on the route to St. Petersburg if they were not comfortable. He says the captain assured them he would not put anyone in harm's way and keep the ship safe.

The Chief Mate testified it was Capt. Walbridge's plan to navigate the ship over the top of the storm and then take advantage of the SW-Westerly winds on the navigable side of the storm to make their way down to St. Petersburg.

The ship left port from New London. Up until the afternoon of October 28th, Svendsen testified that everything appeared to be running smooth and they were charting the weather every half hour.

The ship started to run into trouble when a generator and engine failed and the pumps did not pump enough water out of the ship. Svendsen says water appeared to be coming in through the planks.

At one point, he says he expressed his concerns to the captain that they should get in touch with the Coast Guard and HMS Bounty office to make decisions together early on, but captain did not agree it was necessary.

Svendsen testified Captain Walbridge had been injured when he was knocked into a table when the ship rolled in the rough waters. Even though he was hurt, he was still mobile and able to get around the ship, Svendsen said.

They eventually made contact with the Coast Guard and HMS Bounty office when trouble became apparent.

During the testimony, we learned the captain decided the Coast Guard's mission would be more of a rescue than pumping mission when it was determined the Coast Guard would not be able to drop additional pumps to the ship in enough time.

The crew was instructed to put on their emergency suits and wait for the call to abandon ship.

The decision was eventually made to abandon ship after Svendsen says he advised the Captain twice within a few minute time frame that it was time to leave. One minute after the Captain agreed to abandon ship, Svendsen says a wave rolled the ship.

Svendsen says he swam for about three hours before a Coast Guard helicopter rescued him.

Robert Hanson, the owner of HMS Bounty did not testify Tuesday, invoking his 5th Amendment right.

Earlier report:

St. Petersburg, Florida -- The tall ship HMS Bounty, which sank on its way to St. Pete during Hurricane Sandy, will be at the center of a Coast Guard hearing Tuesday.

As 18-foot seas smashed and crashed over its decks and 40 mile-an-hour winds howled, the tall ship slipped under the waves off the coast of North Carolina.

That was October 29th, 2012. The ship was surrounded by the worst of Hurricane Sandy.

Tuesday, eight days of hearings begin in Virginia to figure out what went wrong.

Why did the giant movie prop set sail from Connecticut toward Tampa Bay when the captain of another similar tall ship studying the same route choose to stay in port, and not risk it?

That other ship's captain, Bounty crew members, dockworkers, and more will all be called to testify in front of a federal safety panel.

The HMS Bounty organization operated the ship and called the Coast Guard for help when it lost contact with the crew. The head of that organization will be among the first to testify.

You can count on her being asked to explain a defiant post the group put on its Facebook page hours before the Bounty was lost. It read:

"Rest assured that the Bounty is safe and in very capable hands. Bounty's current voyage is a calculated decision .?.?. NOT AT ALL .?.?. irresponsible or with a lack of foresight as some have suggested. The fact of the matter is .?.?. A SHIP IS SAFER AT SEA THAN IN PORT!"

Astonishingly, the Coast Guard was able to rescue 14 of the 16 crew members despite nightmare conditions off the coast of North Carolina.

But two people -- 42-year old Claudene Christian and 63-year old Captain Robin Walbridge of St. Petersburg -- did not survive.

The ship spent many winters in St. Petersburg after it was built for the 1962 movie "Mutiny on the Bounty."

It went on to appear in the second "Pirates of the Caribbean" film and other Hollywood movies.

Grayson Kamm, 10 News

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