Bounty Hearings

Mario is sitting in…

Bounty Hearings Begin – Chief Mate Testifies

By Mario Vittone

With bruising and cuts to his face, broken bones in his hands, chest trauma, a twisted knee, and a dislocated shoulder, John Svendsen swam towards a strobe light. The tall ship Bounty had just sank from underneath him. It was early in the morning – just after midnight really – of October 29th, last year. He was likely the last person to see the ship’s captain, Robin Walbridge, alive as both men crawled across the the foundering ship. Several hours (and probably miles) later, Svendsen – the last Chief Mate of Bounty – was pulled from the Atlantic by a Coast Guard MH-60J – lucky to be alive.

This morning he was sitting alone at a desk at the Renaissance Hotel in Portsmouth while Commander Kevin Carroll – the man assigned to investigate the incident – engaged him in hours of Q & A. Today’s testimony – that included the details above – ended at about 4:00 PM Eastern. By the time I got drove home from the hearing, local reporters had already misrepresented Svendsen’s testimony.

The first timeI weighed in about the Bounty sinking I said that if “I’ve learned anything in my career, it’s that speculation rarely lines up with facts.” It turns out that facts rarely line up with facts either. My own local paper – The Pilot – reported that Svendsen stated that he “[I]twice urged Walbridge to abandon ship before Walbridge agreed.[/I]” and later in the same article report that “[I]Svendsen twice told Walbridge they should abandon ship before Walbridge agreed. The boat rolled before an orderly evacuation could happen, spilling crew members into the ocean.[/I]” The Pilot left out that the time between his first urging and Walbridges agreement was two minutes. Sincerely – there was a time for an “orderly evacuation” and it was long before Svendsen said “I think it’s time.”

What was made clear by the Chief Mate was that crew members did, indeed, have concerns about leaving New London with Hurricane Sandy on the loose. The Chief Mate brought those concerns to Captain Walbridge before they left port, offering up other options for mooring up-river. The captain held a meeting telling the crew they could stay behind with no hard feelings, but that Bounty was safer at sea than in port, and that he was heading out, according to Svendsen.

Testimony today including a number of things far more concerning than a two-minute dissonance between the mate and the captain. Svendsen testified about alterations to the ship’s construction arrangement in the yard period just prior to sailing that including the moving of fuel tanks and the addition of other tanks, new hatches, new tonnage openings and ladders and all of it without Coast Guard or class oversight. The ship routinely sailed – according to Svensen’s comments on Coast guard evidence – with sails not in Bounty’s approved sail plan and carried removable ballast forbidden by the ship’s stability letter. Caulking on the ship’s plank seams and the replacement of planking raised eyebrows as well. But without access to all the evidence, it was hard to draw conclusions about what Svendsen was commenting on. There was a picture that none in the gallery could see and a reference to DAP and the number 33. Did the crew that caulked the seams of Bounty in the yards prior to sailing use house-grade DAP sealant on the planking seams? I don’t know. It seems more likely that they were bottom coating with Interlux 33 – but these are facts that were alluded to, not verified.

One rumor confirmed by the Chief Mate made was that the Bounty routinely needed bilge pumping in normal conditions. “We had to run the pumps once or twice during every four hour watch.” The Bounty made water – lots if it. During his last watch on the morning of September 28th – less than 20 hours before she went down – Svendsen said, ” the bilge pumps were running constantly. Perhaps he attributed that to the sea state and water coming down from the weather decks, but he hit the rack just after noon thinking the ship was in good shape. Six hours later he was convinced that the ship was taking water through the planking at two spots on the port side (according to his testimony today.) Six hours after that he was alone in the Atlantic and swimming for his life.

After Svendsen’s testimony was finished – Carroll and the panel discussed a piece of evidence (CG-12) – a 2010 survey report from the American Bureau of Shipping – that outlined 19 deficiencies requiring attention if the Bounty was to be issued a Load Line certificate. The issues ranged from weather-tight fittings and missing hatch gaskets to improper drainage and problems with watertight bulkheads. The Coast Guard investigator kept repeating the phrase “that repair was not done” when referring to an interview with the ships owner following the sinking. The load line certificate was never issued.

There are seven days of testimony left and I intend to be there for all of them. You can be sure that I’ll only tell you what I know for certain based on what I see and hear and I’m not willing to draw conclusions just yet.

It turns out, that an investigation is no place for absolutes either – at least not from the press gallery.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR[B]Mario Vittone[/B]

Mario Vittone has twenty-one years of combined military service in the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard. His writing on maritime safety has appeared in Yachting, SaltWater Sportsman,MotorBoating, On-Scene, Lifelines, and Reader’s Digest magazine. He has lectured extensively on topics ranging from leadership to sea survival, immersion hypothermia, and survival at sea.

http://gcaptain.com/bounty-hearings-chief-mates-testifies/

Man, I am watching the CG hearing on the Bounty, what a way to spend a day!

The Shipyard sup that was in charge of the last yard period just said they found rotted framing and planking. He said he suggested to the Captain that they should investigate the rest of the frames because of the damage that was found. The Captain told him to repair what was found but they would inspect the rest during next years yard period when the CG would be inspecting her. When asked if the CG was there year he said yes. He was then asked if he told the CG about the rot that he found, he said NO. When asked why he said, he did not feel it was his place to say anything as he was working for the Owner. He did tell his boss though. He went on to say they found more rot and either the Captain said no to the repair or yes but he decided to use a different type of wood in some places.

To me it sounds like the yard may have some problems but the Owner of the Bounty may have some larger problems than he thought.

Just started listening for a bit. Did the shipyard rep just say he told the captain to avoid heavy weather?

[QUOTE=Kennebec Captain;98710]Just started listening for a bit. Did the shipyard rep just say he told the captain to avoid heavy weather?[/QUOTE]

That’s what I heard. I liked the way they keep tap dancing around the term “Seaworthy”. I know that the Bounty Lawyers do not want that term even mentioned.

I guess I know what I am doing tomorrow as the are starting back up at 0900. This is better than anything else on the boob tube.

Have they interviewed the vessel insurance surveyor yet? I have a good friend I served with that does mostly wooden vessels. If someone gets his name and forwards it to me I would appreciate it.

Owner Robert Hansen’s attorney says he will not testify, because he doesn’t want to incriminate himself.

The story is here

Where is this being shown? C-span, live feed? Are there archives from the beginning?

I posted a link in the other bounty thread yesterday. I hope to get home from the boat in time to watch Friday afternoons proceedings!

…to play the fool, they were only repairing it to be a dockside attraction, not a seagoing vessel, right?

[QUOTE=z-drive;98762]I posted a link in the other bounty thread yesterday. I hope to get home from the boat in time to watch Friday afternoons proceedings!

…to play the fool, they were only repairing it to be a dockside attraction, not a seagoing vessel, right?[/QUOTE]

Well if you squint real hard and have a couple three beers it looked kinda like a seagoing vessel…

We’ll see who’s the most guilty Walbridge or Hansen. My money is on Walbridge.

[QUOTE=AHTS Master;98764]We’ll see who’s the most guilty Walbridge or Hansen. My money is on Walbridge.[/QUOTE]

The Marine Electric is mentioned on another thread. These incidents are similar. In each case the captain and owner were trying to squeeze a couple more trips out of the vessel. The incentives are to overlook risks. The missing player in both cases is the regulatory agencies.

When you only need to make one more trip it’s harder to justify expenses even though that’s when the vessel is in the worse condition.

[QUOTE=Kennebec Captain;98802]The Marine Electric is mentioned on another thread. These incidents are similar. In each case the captain and owner were trying to squeeze a couple more trips out of the vessel. The incentives are to overlook risks. The missing player in both cases is the regulatory agencies.

When you only need to make one more trip it’s harder to justify expenses even though that’s when the vessel is in the worse condition.[/QUOTE]

Just which regulatory agencies are involved with the BOUNTY? I haven’t been paying too much attention, to be honest. I did see where there were some ABS load line requirements that were apparently not addressed. My guess is that the BOUNTY might not have been Classed, however may have carried a Load Line, issued on behalf of the Flag State by ABS. This is not an uncommon arrangement for some non-cargo carrying vessels, especially harbor tugs, research vessels, etc.

[QUOTE=cmakin;98810]Just which regulatory agencies are involved with the BOUNTY? I haven’t been paying too much attention, to be honest. I did see where there were some ABS load line requirements that were apparently not addressed. My guess is that the BOUNTY might not have been Classed, however may have carried a Load Line, issued on behalf of the Flag State by ABS. This is not an uncommon arrangement for some non-cargo carrying vessels, especially harbor tugs, research vessels, etc.[/QUOTE]
In the other thread that MIkey started, Mario has documented what was confirmed in the CG hearings. That is they *the owners/ crew/ captain" did some modifications at some point in the past. These modifications altered the ‘tonnage’ openings, and brought the tonnage from 267 to 460(something) As a result of the change in admeasurement, she became (via these fucking wonderous tonnage loopholes) subject to ABS and SOLAS. They did all they needed to do, and removed offending new bulkheads and viola, she reappeared under the tonnage threshold. So ABS was no longer involved. The USCG was (and still is). The Bounty was classed as a ‘Dockside Attraction’. There was no passenger allowance. Only crew. This should be the big issue on these rag boats. The people who PAY for passage (but are called crew) happens all over the coast.

Odds are they will pin it on the dead guy for two reasons;

  1. He was the master (notice small “m”) and the final say on safety, legally.
  2. They ALWAYS try and pin it on the dead guy.

It would have been the same with the Marine Electric if the Chief Mate had not survived and kicked proverbial ass on the stand and a certain USCG Captain did not have his head up his proverbial ass and remained objective and focused on safety of the mariner vice protecting the owners and his own organization.

[QUOTE=cmakin;98810]Just which regulatory agencies are involved with the BOUNTY? I haven’t been paying too much attention, to be honest. I did see where there were some ABS load line requirements that were apparently not addressed. My guess is that the BOUNTY might not have been Classed, however may have carried a Load Line, issued on behalf of the Flag State by ABS. This is not an uncommon arrangement for some non-cargo carrying vessels, especially harbor tugs, research vessels, etc.[/QUOTE]

Not sure. From what I gather for the USCG they were categorized as a dock side attraction when alongside and as something along the lines of a private yacht when at sea. The ship yard rep mentioned that the captain wanted to defer repairs till an up-coming (dry-dock?) CG inspection.

I’m not on firm ground with the class/load-line but what you’re saying about the load-line sounds correct. I believe the Bounty had load-line issues with a PSC inspection in Europe.

Evidently they were planning to up-grade so they could carry passengers at sea. This was what trip to Fl. was all about, some scheme with special needs kids.

EDIT: I not saying the the regulators weren’t doing their job, at least not in the case of the Bounty. Evidently the Bounty escaped close scrutiny due to the dockside attraction category and they hoped that more funds for maintenance would be available later.

One difference between the Marine Electric and the Bounty was in the case of the Marine Electric the capt that was most familiar with the ship and was trying to nurse a ship known not to be very strong for the last few trips and the capt that was aboard when heavy weather was encountered were two different people. The regular captain of the M.E. thought that the relief capt pushed the ship too hard.

In the case of the Bounty the capt. who knew that the ship was fragile and the capt who pushed the vessel too hard in heavy weather was the same person.

As I understand it, BOUNTY was NOT USCG inspected at all. It was a repeated applicant for USCG inspection as a sail training vessel, but never got it. As a dockside attraction it would be exempt from inspection. As a private yacht it would also be exempt from inspection.

Day Two…

By Mario Vittone

The witness, Todd Kosakowski, looked at Coast Guard’s evidence # CG-41:  a series of 29 photographs he had taken of Bounty during its most recent yard period. Mr. Kosakowski – the lead shipwright and project manager for Boothbay Harbor Shipyards - was in charge of the last maintenance project ever to be done on Bounty.

The pictures were of rotted frames and fasteners (trunnels) he found under the planking during repairs. Kosakowski told NTSB investigator Captain Rob Jones that he believes 75% of the framing above the waterline on Bounty may have been rotten, but that the ship’s representative in the yard, Captain Robin Walbridge, declined any further search for rotted wood. He convinced Kosakowski that they would make the repairs before their next Coast Guard hull inspection.  The final witness of the day and the discussion of the evidence was stunning those of us in the crowd.

He had given the photos to the USCG Investigator back in December.  That same Coast Guard investigator – Commander Kevin Carroll –  was on the other side of the table today, asking questions.

Carroll: “And you had a conversation…did you tell Captain Walbridge?”

Kosakowski: ”Yes.”

Carrol: ”What did he say?”

Kosakowski: “He was also concerned.  I told him I thought that  he had to pick and choose his weather… he said that he was terrified of what we had found.”

Kosakowski said that he didn’t voice his concerns to anyone other than Captain Walbridge of Bounty and his own boss, Eric Graves, telling Carroll, “I believe that the owner’s rep is the extent of my debt to notify.”

Looking around to see if anyone else looked as dismayed as I felt, I didn’t have to look hard.  What we were hearing from Kosakowski came at the end of a long day of testimony that painted a picture of maintenance and management of Bounty that was suspect at best.

Morning testimony by  Miss Tracey Simonin – the HMS Bounty Organization’s “Director of Shoreside Operations” revealed confusion about the ship’s status as it related to tonnage certificates and maintenance management, ABS and USCG notification of repairs, and who may or may not be in charge of repair work aboard Bounty.

In July of 2011, at the urging of USCG Activities Europe and MCA, Simonin walked through a new Tonnage Certificate issued by ABS that set Bounty’s gross tonnage at 409.  During a visit, MCA inspectors noticed a change to the ship’s construction – specifically the removal of a tonnage opening – that was not reported to ABS.  The new assessment made the Bounty subject to SOLAS, and the HMS Bounty Organization appealed.  A year later they changed the vessel back to its previous configuration and received a new tonnage certificate that brought them back down to 266 regulatory tons, but it would seem that for a year Bounty operated in violation of IMO regulations. Like so much of what I’ve seen so far in these hearings, there are more questions than answers; Simonin answered “I don’t know,” and “I don’t remember,” frequently.

In Simonin’s defense, there was someone in the room better suited to answer the Commander’s questions today, but Mr. Robert Hansen (Bounty’s owner) is asserting his fifth amendment rights and will not be testifying. Simonin did clear up a couple of things.  We learned that the person who posted on Bounty’s Facebook page was Jim Salapatek.  He – not the captain – was the one who posted that the voyage into the hurricane was a safe decision, that the Coast Guard had issued a UMIB (Urgent Marine Information Broadcast) for Bounty on October 28th but had rescinded it (they hadn’t), and he did all of that from his home in Illinois.   His connection to Bounty?  His son, Drew (29) was crew aboard Bounty. How did he get his information? “I don’t know,” said Simonin.

There was a break from strained testimony and nervous answers when Mr. Bert Rogers, the executive director of Tall Ships America,  was called as a witness. “Bounty was the star of the show at our events because of her star appeal and we featured her as a headliner vessel at our events,” Rogers said. When asked about Walbridge’s  competence, Rogers spoke well of the captain and his efforts over the past 17 years to “turn Bounty around.” He said complimentary things about Bounty’s crew and the ship’s relationship and value to his organization.

It was 20 minutes of good news about the ship and her performance from a respected and experienced leader in the tall ship community. And then Rogers – the first experienced tall-ship captain  to take the stand – was asked by Carroll, “Would you have taken her out into that storm?”  ”No, I would have sought safer berth upriver.”  No one was surprised.

Carroll: “Do you think the ship was safer at sea?”

Rogers: “I don’t believe that a ship is safer at sea.  It is circumstantial.  There are cases where that is the example and cases where it is not.”

Carroll: “Is the crew safer at sea?”

Rogers: “That is absurd; they are of course safer in bed than at sea. But if you have to decide between crew safety and ship safety you would have to go to the crew.”

Rogers left before he could hear Kosakowski recount the condition of Bounty and the rotted frames.  He didn’t hear about Walbridge’s decision to wait until the next yard period to get into extensive repairs.  He didn’t hear about the shipwright’s warning to keep the boat out of heavy weather. If he had, I wonder what he would have thought about those “circumstances?”

The last to question Rogers was the attorney for the Christian family, Mr. Jacob Shisha. The body of the Christian’s daughter, Claudine (42), was recovered by the Coast Guard on October 29th.

Shisha: “In late October – how many member vessels did you have on the Atlantic Coast?”

Rogers: “About fifty.”

Shisha: “How many made a decision to leave port in anticipation of Hurricane Sandy?”

Rogers: “None that I know of…besides Bounty.”

http://gcaptain.com/rotted-frames-bounty/

[QUOTE=Kennebec Captain;98815]Not sure. From what I gather for the USCG they were categorized as a dock side attraction when alongside and as something along the lines of a private yacht when at sea. The ship yard rep mentioned that the captain wanted to defer repairs till an up-coming (dry-dock?) CG inspection.

I’m not on firm ground with the class/load-line but what you’re saying about the load-line sounds correct. I believe the Bounty had load-line issues with a PSC inspection in Europe.

Evidently they were planning to up-grade so they could carry passengers at sea. This was what trip to Fl. was all about, some scheme with special needs kids.

EDIT: I not saying the the regulators weren’t doing their job, at least not in the case of the Bounty. Evidently the Bounty escaped close scrutiny due to the dockside attraction category and they hoped that more funds for maintenance would be available later.[/QUOTE]

Class, as it relates to a Classification Society does not have a “Dockside Attraction” designation, or at least so far as I know. As I stated above, most often, Flag States (US included) defer the Load Line requirements to a Class Society. Very few do not, with Mexico being one that comes to mind, since I was involved with the issuance of statutory documentation of a vessel that was being converted and re-flagged Mexican (at the last minute, I might add). It took some doing to get special dispensation from the Mexican Government to issue the certs (temporary) so the vessel could depart when completed.

It appears the difference is the difference between a Certificate Of Inspection, versus a Certificate Of Documentation. The Bounty apparently had just a COD, with the vessel type listed as Dockside attraction. This does not prevent the vessel from moving, it just denotes the type of vessel it is(was). Being an UNinspected vessel leaves the field WIDE open as to the legal conditions it operated in. As an uninspected it COULD legally carry up to 6 passengers. However, I seriously doubt that it EVER sailed with less than a dozen (or two) on these ‘charitable’, training, or ‘non profit’ trips she made. These are the loopholes that should be the point of this investigation, not whether this particular vessel should have gone to sea or not.