Coast Guard officials suspended their search on Thursday for the missing captain of the abandoned and sunken HMS Bounty, and announced Friday that the branch will be formally investigating the incident.
One crew member – 42-year-old Claudene Christian – died earlier this week after being recovered, and Capt. Robin Walbridge's disappearance upped the number of crew members not accounted for alive to two, after 14 others were rescued and brought to safety by Coast Guard officials on Monday morning.
The Coast Guard rescue can be seen in an attached YouTube video.
The Bounty, a 180-foot, three-mast tall ship and a highlight of Memorial Day's Tall Ships festival in Greenport and no stranger to Port Jefferson Harbor, is owned by East Setauket's HMS Bounty Organization.
Coast Guard officials said they will investigate several aspects leading up to the sinking of the Bounty, which was made famous in the 1962 film "Mutiny on the Bounty," featuring Marlon Brando. It has also appeared in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" starring Johnny Depp.
According to the USCG, the following will be investigated:
- The cause of the accident
- Whether there is evidence that any failure of material or equipment was involved or contributed to the casualty
- Whether there is evidence that any act of misconduct, inattention to duty, negligence, or willful violation of the law on the part of any licensed or certificated person contributed to the casualty
- Whether there is evidence that any Coast Guard or other government agency personnel caused or contributed to the casualty
- And whether the accident should be further investigated by a Marine Board of Investigation
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Walbridge and Christian families," said Capt. Doug Cameron, the chief of incident response for the Coast Guard 5th District, on Thursday. ”Suspending a search and rescue case is one of the hardest decisions we have to make.”
The search for the missing sailors lasted over 90 hours and comprised of approximately 12,000 overlapping nautical square miles in the Atlantic Ocean after the boat called for rescue in the early hours of Monday morning.
New London was the last stop for the ship before the disaster. According to the Bounty's Facebook page, the 180-foot tall ship arrived in New London on Oct. 23. The crew met with members of the USS Mississippi, a Virginia-class submarine assigned to Sub Base New London in Groton, and embarked on a day sail with them. The Bounty departed New London on Oct. 25, Walbridge's birthday, to sail for St. Petersburg, Fla.
The page reported at about 11 p.m. on Sunday that one of the ship's generators had failed and the ship was taking on water. It said an urgent marine information broadcast for the Bounty was issued soon after but then rescinded. The post said Walbridge would determine whether Coast Guard assistance was necessary the next morning.
The Coast Guard investigation could take a few months to finish, officials said.
The Bounty has set up a relief organization for the survivors and the families of Christian and Walbridge. Donations may be made at the ship's website or via PayPal by e-mailing HMSBounty2012@yahoo.com.
Dirk Langeveld contributed to this report.