Tall Ship sinks as Sandy batters US

Published Tuesday, 30 October 2012
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One of the Tall Ships that wowed crowds in Belfast has sunk off America's east coast during Superstorm Sandy, forcing all 16 people on board to jump ship into waves said to be 18ft high.

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While 14 of the HMS Bounty crew were found and taken to safety by helicopter, one woman was found unresponsive hours later and has since been pronounced dead in hospital.

"She loved the Bounty. She absolutely loved it," a friend said of Claudene Christian, having met her while sailing on the ship in Nova Scotia just a few months ago.

"She was so happy to be on it and doing something that she found that she loved to do."

The captain of the distinctive ship - famous for its appearances in the hit films Mutiny On The Bounty and Pirates of the Caribbean - is still missing.

Having set sail from Connecticut last Thursday, headed for his home town of St Petersburg in Florida, Captain Robin Walbridge had believed the ship could navigate around the worst of the storm.

But after two days of rough seas, it became clear just how difficult that would be.

"I think we are going to be into this for several days," he said, in a message posted on Sunday on the HMS Bounty's Facebook page.

"We are just going to keep trying to go fast."

We want to thank the US Coast Guard for their bravery and risking their lives to save ours.

HMS Bounty crew

In the latest Facebook post, the devastated crew thanked everyone for their support and prayers.

"There were 16 brave crew members aboard the Bounty," the post continued.

"With sadness in our hearts, we are reporting that we have lost one crew member and are still missing another. The USCG is continuing their effort to search for our last crew member.

"Please continue to send your love and support to us, it is much needed."

The HMS Bounty was one of the stars of the Titanic Maritime Festival when it was anchored at Queen's Quay and Abercorn Basin in Belfast, alongside other famous vessels, in 2011.

The HMS Bounty in Belfast.

The HMS Bounty pictured in Belfast.

Dramatic images from the US Coast Guard have now shown the 18-foot ship submerged in the Atlantic Ocean, off North Carolina.

It began to take on water on Monday, before its engines failed and the ship started to go down amid immense waves.

By the time the dramatic effort to rescue the crew from the stormy waters got underway, all that was visible was a strobe light on top of the mast.

The HMS Bounty had been due to arrive in its frequent winter port of St Petersburg in November.

"When a crew decides it's safer in an inflatable than it is on deck, then you know she's in peril," the local mayor, Bill Foster, said.

One of the US Coast Guard rescue team helped save five of the ship's crew.

"It's one of the biggest seas I've ever been in. It was huge out there," Randy Haba said.

According to the general manager of the pier where the HMS Bounty docks, the ship's missing captain lived to sail.

"The ship was almost like his home," Carol Everson said.

"That's where he spent most of his time - aboard the ship. He was so full of history and so interesting to talk to. And he knew his sailing stuff."

Meanwhile, as the superstorm reached inland and continues to wreak havoc, at least 17 people across seven states have lost their lives.

Three of the victims are understood to be children - the youngest aged just eight.

Power has also been cut to more than six million homes and businesses, while there have been scares at two nuclear power plants and thousands of flights have been grounded.

The great thing about America is when we go through tough times like this, we all pull together.

President Barack Obama

In total, around 50 million people could be affected and up to one million ordered to evacuate their homes in the heavily populated New York area.

President Barack Obama has declared a major disaster in New York and Long Island, making federal funding available to residents.

New York University's Tisch Hospital was forced to evacuate 200 patients - including babies from the neonatal intensive care unit - after its backup generator failed.

A huge fire in Queens destroyed 50 homes, despite the efforts of nearly 200 firefighters, while thousands were evacuated after the storm caused a construction crane to partially collapse 74 storeys up.

The New York Stock Exchange is closed for a second day, while the subway, bridges and tunnels connecting New York and New Jersey and Brooklyn and Manhattan are also closed.

Even the presidential campaign has been put on hold, just a week before Election Day.

President Obama has scrapped his planned events to concentrate on overseeing the government's response to the storm, while his Republican rival Mitt Romney is going ahead with an event in Ohio but is said to be turning the focus to storm relief.

Sandy is expected to stay until at least mid-week.

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