Retired Naval Architect
Join Date: May 2012
Location: ON S/V Strider
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Re: The Emotions Over The Bounty Tragedy
I've been involved over the years, well decades, in a lot of post accident analysis and investigation of sailing vessel accidents. I can understand the, "Let's not speculate, Monday morning quarterback professionals, wait for the facts, etc., etc....". If there was ever an sailing vessel tragedy in which these things don't apply, it's this one. I just don't see any mystery or grey areas here, other than what was going on in the captain's mind in New London.
As for the position of respect for the families and avoiding further pain, the primary burden of responsibility the captain carried on his shoulders was bringing himself and crew back. An asteroid did not fall on this vessel. The families' pain grows out of the decisions made by her master. I doubt any of the families are reading these forums and the idea that what we say here could be significant in the enormous pain and loss they are now experiencing I think is inflation of our importance.
Anyone who takes even the smallest vessel out on the water makes decisions that can have tragic consequences. I think there is great value in all of us pondering how even a mariner as competent and experienced as this ship's master can delude himself. I was once a pilot and also very interested in the human factors of aviation accidents. If I were making a short list of the most common cause of accidents both in the air and on the sea, "self-delusion" would be on it. Events such as this are a mirror we need to look at ourselves in.
I don't get upset about the uninformed things I see posted about events such as this. Thinking about how things like this happen is important and can make everyone safer if they realize that the same decision making dynamics are relevant to a fair summer day on Long Island Sound.
My tolerance for uniformed and naive statements in forums like this is framed by my background which most of you aren't aware of. "Tall Ships Down", is a book that discusses five sailing vessel losses. I was involved in the investigation or analysis of three of them. I did the research and developed the basic regulatory framework that distinguishes the sailing school vessel stability requirements from those for passenger vessel. Founding chairman of the ASTA Technical Committee. Consultant and expert witness for the British government to do stability analysis in the Marques inquiry.
You can look up a thread here I started about the Pride of Baltimore for more history and discussion of how people whose competence one wouldn't think to question can do inexplicable things.
The grandest tradition of the sea is the concept of the Master of a vessel who is responsible for every aspect of the voyage and its outcome. Even if it could be determined that the vessel would have survived the weather but for the failure of a piece of machinery, it would be the captain's responsibility because part of the job description is to know the condition of every system and factor that into voyage decisions.
Responsibility is not the same thing as fault although it is closely related. The magnificent thing about someone becoming the Master of a vessel is accepting the possibility of being responsible for something beyond their control and which isn't their direct fault. It is all too rare a concept in this buck passing and CYA world.
There can be no question, however, that, if the captain had elected to stay in New London, everyone would be alive today. The ship might have been damaged but it's highly unlikely that it would not have been repairable. It is also almost virtually certain that the ship could have moved to a more protected port without incident if there was some compelling reason to leave New London.
It's easy to say something like, "Well, if you want to be perfectly safe, you would never leave port." However, there is a spectrum of risk. The decisions made here are so far out to the extreme risk side of that spectrum and so far separated from the norm as to justify equally unusual responses.