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U.S. safety board blames captain for 2012 Bounty sinking

By Eric Beech

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The sinking of the tall ship Bounty off the North Carolina coast in 2012 was likely caused by the captain's "reckless decision" to sail the vessel into the path of Hurricane Sandy, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said on Monday.

Captain Robin Walbridge, 63, and a crew member were killed when the 108-foot (33-meter) ship, built for the 1962 movie "Mutiny on the Bounty," sank before dawn on October 29, 2012. It foundered about 130 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, after being battered by Sandy's 30-foot (9-meter) seas and 100-mile per hour wind gusts.

Coast Guard helicopters rescued 14 crew members, including three seriously injured, several hours after the ship sank.

"The probable cause of the sinking of tall ship Bounty was the captain's reckless decision to sail the vessel into the well-forecasted path of Hurricane Sandy, which subjected the aging vessel and the inexperienced crew to conditions from which the vessel could not recover," the report concluded.

Surviving crew members testified at a Coast Guard hearing last February in Virginia.

The NTSB accident report said several crew members had expressed their concerns to the captain about sailing into the storm prior to leaving port at New London, Connecticut, on October 25, 2012, bound for St. Petersburg, Florida.

The captain, whose body was never found, told the crew he was confident the ship could handle the rough weather. He also told a Maine television station that the Bounty had "chased hurricanes," the NTSB report said.

The NTSB also laid some of the blame on the group responsible for managing the ship, HMS Bounty Organization LLC, saying it did nothing to dissuade the captain from sailing into the storm.

The safety board said the crew fixed seams in the wooden hull with household kitchen and bath caulk supplied by the captain, which was not recommended for marine use.

The ship's hull also had areas of wood rot that the captain told the crew could not be repaired due to a lack of time and money, according to the report.

The family of the crew member who died, Claudene Christian, has sued HMS Bounty Organization and the ship's owner, Robert Hansen, for $90 million, alleging the Bounty was unseaworthy and the captain negligent.

Hansen was not immediately available for comment on the NTSB report.

(Reporting by Eric Beech; Additional reporting by Harriet McLeod; editing by Jon Herskovitz, G Crosse and Tom Brown)

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