A hearing on the circumstances leading up to the loss of the HMS Bounty, which sailed from New London as Hurricane Sandy was coming up the Eastern Seaboard, has concluded.
A federal safety panel of Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board officials heard its last witnesses on Thursday. The investigation will determine what caused the sinking of the tall ship, which was built for the 1962 film Mutiny on the Bounty and featured in films such as Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men's Chest. The panel will also make recommendations on whether any policy changes are needed to prevent similar incidents and whether to recommend criminal charges to federal prosecutors.
The Bounty left New London on Oct. 25 and sank four days later about 90 miles off the coast of Cape Hatteras, N.C. Survivors recalled that the ship rolled before it sank, throwing crew members into the water as they tried to organize an evacuation.
Coast Guard helicopters and rescue swimmers were able to save 14 crew members, but 42-year-old Claudene Christian was killed and 63-year-old captain Robin Walbridge was never found.
On Wednesday, the panel heard testimony from other tall ship captains who opted to delay departure rather than sail due to the storm. According to the Virginia-Pilot, Dan Moreland and Jan miles testified on Wednesday. Moreland, captain of the Picton Castle, decided not to depart from Nova Scotia until the storm had passed while Jan Miles, captain of the Pride of Baltimore II, kept the ship tied up in Baltimore. Both Moreland and Miles said they were shocked by Walbridge's decision, and Miles later wrote an open letter criticizing it as reckless.
On Thursday, the panel heard from Commander James Mitchell, search and rescue coordinator for the North Carolina sector of the Coast Guard. According to the Associated Press, Mitchell said other vessels were trying to avoid the storm and the nearest Navy ship at sea was about 260 miles from where the Bounty sank. Mitchell said he was unable to find another person to back Walbridge's assertion that the ship would be safer at sea than in port during the storm and said the Bounty "didn't know what they were getting themselves into."
Other testimony has included:
- Chief mate John Svendsen, who said Walbridge favored trying to repair the Bounty's failing systems and twice turned down Svendsen's recommendation to abandon ship before agreeing to it
- Todd Kosakowski, a project manager at Boothbay Harbor Shipyard in Maine, who warned Walbridge that he had discovered rot in the frame of the Bounty during an overhaul shortly before the sinking
- Surviving crew members, who recalled efforts to repair the ship's systems during the storm
The Bounty's owner, New York businessman Robert Hansen, invoked his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination and declined to testify before the panel.
The investigation is expected to take several more months before conclusions are released.