Rotted Frames on Bounty – Bounty Hearings – Day 2

Mario Vittone
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February 14, 2013

Commander Kevin Carroll, USCG (AP Photo)

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.

Todd Kosakowski with Chief Mate John Svendsen after the second day of testimony into the sinking of Bounty. (Photo M. Vittone)
Todd Kosakowski with Chief Mate John Svendsen after the second day of testimony into the sinking of Bounty. (Photo M. Vittone)

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, 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 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.”

Next: Day 3 – Testimony Highlights Complexity in Bounty Case

Continued Bounty Coverage:

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