HMS Bounty Sailed With Rotting Frame, Shipyard Official Testifies

Investigation into sinking of tall ship that left New London and sank in Hurricane Sandy continues


An official at a Maine shipyard told a federal safety panel that rotting framework in the HMS Bounty may have contributed to the vessel's loss.

Todd Kosakowski, a project manager at Boothbay Harbor Shipyard, told a panel of Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board officials that he discovered rot while replacing two planks in the ship prior to its ill-fated journey in October, according to the Virginia-Pilot.

The shipyard was one of the last stops for the 180-foot tall ship, which was built as a replica for the 1962 film Mutiny on the Bounty. According to the shipyard's blog, the ship was brought in for work in September and October. Boothbay Harbor Shipyard also did refitting work on the ship on two other occasions in the past decade, according to the site.

The work completed in the final restoration included bottom work and caulking, new water and fuel tanks, new spars, work on topside planking, and some systems work, according to the blog. A YouTube video posted on Oct. 18 shows the Bounty being relaunched from the shipyard.

The vessel visited New London on Oct. 23 and departed for St. Petersburg, Fla., two days later. It sank on Oct. 29 in rough waters kicked up by Hurricane Sandy, about 90 miles off Hatteras, N.C. Coast Guard helicopters and rescue swimmers saved 14 members of the crew. Captain Robin Walbridge, 63, was never found and presumed dead, and 42-year-old Claudene Christian was found several hours after the wreck and later pronounced dead.

Kosakowski testified that he warned Walbridge to be cautious with the ship due to the discovery of rot. He said it was unclear how extensive the rot was because Walbridge opted not to have the shipyard look into the issue due to concerns over the amount of time and money that would be required to do so. Kosakowski said Walbridge told him he would have the rot repaired the next time the Bounty was brought to the shipyard.

Wednesday's hearings also revealed that the father of one of the Bounty's surviving crew members made the updates that appeared on the ship's official Facebook page prior to the sinking. These justified the decision to sail from New London by saying it would be safer to ride out the storm at sea than in port, with links to sailing methods supporting this idea. The Facebook page has since been removed.

The opening of the investigation included , who said Walbridge twice refused his suggestion to abandon ship in favor of trying to repair the failing generators and stem flooding. Svendsen said Walbridge later agreed to evacuate the ship but that it rolled and pitched the crew into the water before an orderly evacuation could take place.

The ship's owner, Robert Hansen, has invoked his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination and declined to testify before the panel.

The investigation is taking place in Portsmouth, Va., and scheduled to continue through Feb. 21. Its purpose is to determine the causes of the shipwreck and make recommendations to prevent a similar incident in the future.

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