February 13, 2013

Shipyard official: Rotted frame may have helped sink ship

One member of the replica HMS Bounty's 16-person-crew died and the captain was never found after the ship sank during Hurricane Sandy.

The Associated Press

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — A replica 18th-century sailing ship that sank off North Carolina during Hurricane Sandy had a decaying frame with an undetermined amount of rot in it before leaving port, a Maine shipyard worker told federal officials Wednesday.

click image to enlarge

This Coast Guard photo shows the HMS Bounty, a 180-foot replica sailboat, submerged in the Atlantic Ocean during Hurricane Sandy off North Carolina on Oct. 29, 2012. A representative from Maine's Boothbay Harbor Shipyard, where the Bounty underwent repairs weeks before sinking, was set to testify Wednesday.

Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Tim Kuklewski/The Associated Press

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Chief mate of the HMS Bounty John Svendsen, answers a question after pointing out where the Bounty was taking on water at ta federal safety panel hearing on the sinking of the ship on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013, in Portsmouth, Va. A federal safety panel began hearing testimony Tuesday in Virginia to examine what led to the sinking. Sixteen people were aboard the ship when it sank. Crew member Claudene Christian, 42, died, and Capt. Robin Walbridge, 63, was never found. (AP Photo/The Virginian-Pilot, The' N. Pham)

One member of the HMS Bounty's 16-person-crew died, and the captain was never found after the ship sank 90 miles off Cape Hatteras during the October storm. The three-mast sailing ship was built for the 1962 film "Mutiny on the Bounty" starring Marlon Brando, and was featured in several other films over the years, including one of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies.

Officials from the Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board are holding eight days of hearings to determine what caused it to sink and make recommendations to prevent similar deaths.

Todd Kosakowski told the panel that he showed Capt. Robin Walbridge the rot he found in the ship when his workers were replacing several planks at Boothbay Harbor Shipyard several weeks before the storm.

"I told him that I was more than worried about what we found," Kosakowski said.

Rather than replacing the rotted wood — as Kosakowski said was the only way to fix it — the ship's crew painted it over, he said.

Walbridge was 'terrified' at what he saw, but he decided against removing additional planks to see how extensive the damage was and going ahead and replacing it, he said.

"It was very quickly shot down by the captain," Kosakowski said. "That would have required a significant amount of time and money."

Kosakowski said he was concerned about the ship's condition when it left the shipyard and that he had advised Walbridge to avoid 'heavy weather.' The ship would later head directly for the path of the hurricane before taking on water, losing power and rolling over as it tossed the crew into the Atlantic Ocean.

After the ship left the Maine shipyard, it headed to New London, Connecticut. There, it provided a tour for Navy sailors stationed at a submarine base. HMS Bounty officials also met with a potential buyer for the ship before it started making its way to Florida and heading directly for the hurricane.

Before leaving Maine, Kosakowski said that Walbridge had told him that he had told the ship's owner, Robert Hansen, that he should get rid of the boat as soon as possible.

Hansen has declined to testify at the hearings, invoking his Fifth Amendment right to be protected from incriminating himself.

Although the hearing being administered by the panel isn't a criminal proceeding, any evidence of wrongdoing could be referred to federal prosecutors.

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