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February 19, 2013

Chief mate: I urged captain to abandon Bounty

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (AP) — The chief mate of a replica 18th-century sailing ship that sank off North Carolina during Hurricane Sandy told investigators last week that the ship’s captain twice refused his pleas to order the crew to abandon ship.

It wasn’t until he made a third plea that the captain gave the order — moments before the ship rolled and tossed the crew into the water.

One member of the HMS Bounty’s 16-person crew died, and the captain was never found after the ship sank 90 miles off Cape Hatteras during the October storm. The three-mast sailing ship was built for the 1962 film “Mutiny on the Bounty” starring Marlon Brando, and was featured in several other films over the years, including one of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies.

The vessel was traveling to its home port in Florida after touring the East Coast, including a stop in Gloucester for the Schooner Festival on Labor Day weekend.

A federal safety panel began hearing testimony in a Portsmouth hotel about what led to the sinking, with chief mate John Svendsen providing a detailed account of what happened in the days, hours and minutes leading up to the loss of the ship.

Svendsen said the ship was taking on water and had no power when it rolled over and sank. He also told investigators the captain didn’t alert Coast Guard officials of the ship’s deteriorating condition when he first suggested it, with Capt. Robin Walbridge choosing to focus on fixing failing generators instead. Svendsen disagreed with Walbridge on that decision, along with several others.

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