First federal report on Bounty sinking blames captain

(CNN) — For the first time since two people died in the terrifying sinking of the Bounty in Hurricane Sandy, federal officials Monday pointed fingers at what likely caused the disaster.

Bounty Capt. Robin Walbridge’s “reckless decision to sail … into the well-forecast path of Hurricane Sandy” was the probable cause of the tall ship’s October 2012 sinking off the coast of North Carolina, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a report released Monday.

The ship, carrying 16 crew members, flipped sideways in heavy seas and high winds, spilling everyone into the Atlantic.

Walbridge, 63, was never found and is presumed dead; deckhand Claudene Christian — a 42-year-old rookie — died after Coast Guard rescuers were unable to revive her.

Before the ship left port in New London, Connecticut, the captain indicated he knew the hurricane was moving up the eastern seaboard, according to crew testimony at Coast Guard hearings in 2013. A report from that investigation has yet to be released.

Ten of Bounty’s crew members had been aboard for less than a year — including two who had joined less than a month before its last voyage.

Heading into the storm’s path “subjected the aging vessel and the inexperienced crew to conditions from which the vessel could not recover,” Monday’s NTSB report said.

“The Bounty’s crew was put into an extraordinarily hazardous situation through decisions that by any measure didn’t prioritize safety,” NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said in a statement.

The Bounty was arguably the world’s most famous traditionally rigged replica ship. The three-masted square rigger appeared in several Hollywood films, including the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise.

At Coast Guard hearings, crew members testified that the Bounty suffered from a reputation in the tall-ship community for shoddy maintenance and spotty training.

“Contributing to the sinking was the lack of effective safety oversight by the vessel organization,” Monday’s report said.

The ship’s owner, Robert Hansen, e-mailed CNN: “I am unable to comment on the report (which we have not seen) or the pending litigation.”

Christian’s family has filed a civil lawsuit against the ship’s owner. The case is currently in settlement talks. Christian’s parents are “not doing well at all,” the family’s attorney Ralph Mellusi told CNN. “We now have one report — and when the next one comes down, that will help put some closure on this for them.”

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