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UPDATED: Coast Guard Suspends Search For HMS Bounty Captain

Robin Walbridge missing since tall ship sank in Hurricane Sandy while sailing from New London to Florida; Coast Guard will investigate incident

The Coast Guard has suspended its search for the captain of the HMS Bounty, which sank in rough seas off North Carolina during Hurricane Sandy.

According to Reuters, the Coast Guard has been searching for four days for Robin Walbridge, 63, since the tall ship was lost on Monday. Fourteen members of the crew were airlifted to safety after sending out a distress call and abandoning the ship. Another crew member, 42-year-old Claudene Christian, was found unresponsive several hours later and was pronounced dead after being taken to a hospital.

New London was the last stop for the ship before the disaster. According to the Bounty's Facebook page, the Bounty 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.

According to Walbridge's profile on the Bounty's website, the captain grew up in St. Petersburg and had been sailing since the age of 18. He became the captain of the Bounty in 1995.

Facebook posts prior to the vessel's sinking defended the decision to sail as the hurricane approached the East Coast, saying the ship would be safer at sea than in port. Other posts linked to information on sailing methods supporting this idea.

"I think we are going to be into this for several days, the weater [sic] looks like even after the eye goes by it will linger for a couple of days," Walbridge said in an Oct. 28 communication to the director of the HMS Bounty Foundation that was posted to the page. "We are just going to keep trying to go fast and squeese [sic] by the storm and land as fast as we can."

The page reported at about 11 p.m. on Oct. 28 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 It said an urgent marine information broadcast for the Bounty was issued soon after but then rescinded.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.

Coast Guard officials said they will investigate several aspects leading up to the sinking of the 180-foot 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.

The Coast Guard said the following factors 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.

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.

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