Insurance company sues owners of tall ship Bounty

The 180-foot Bounty in an undated photo. (Courtesy photo)

A Maine insurance company has filed a federal lawsuit against the owners of the sailing ship Bounty, claiming they misrepresented the “unseaworthy” condition of the vessel and recklessly chose to sail it into the path of Hurricane Sandy, where it ultimately sank off the coast of North Carolina, killing two people. 

The insurance company is seeking $5.1 million from HMS Bounty Organization LLC and Robert Hansen, the amount the insurance company claims to have paid out to cover the loss of the ship, as well as legal expenses related to lawsuits filed by one victim’s family.

The Bounty had made numerous appearances at Greenport’s Tall Ships Festival and listed the village as its home port.

In legal papers filed last Thursday, Acadia Insurance Company claims the insurance contract the HMS Bounty Organization had signed for the ship should be voided by a district court judge because the group had not disclosed the extent of rot that was plaguing the vessel’s hull.

“Bounty’s hull lacked watertight integrity and leaked constantly,” the lawsuit claims, noting the insurance company found 19 “deficiencies” it requested the organization fix to improve the ship.

Acadia claims Bounty’s owners didn’t make those repairs because they didn’t want to spend the money.

The owners also didn’t tell their insurance company the boat was in violation of “federal statutes and [U.S. Coast Guard] regulations” — a ruling they were appealing at the time of the insurance policy renewal, according to the lawsuit.

The suit goes on to claim that before Bounty sank, the ship was in dry-dock yet the owners “deliberately delayed” having the ship inspected by the insurance company in order to hide its “true condition, particularly the rotted frames and hull planks.”

Acadia claims it was never told about the rot in the ship’s hull, of which only 35 percent had been repaired at the time of the boat’s sinking.

Attorneys have not yet been listed for HMS Bounty Organization or Mr. Hansen.

Neither the group — which shut down its website following the sinking on Oct. 29, 2012 — nor Mr. Hansen could be reached for comment.

In February, a report by the National Transportation Safety Board found that the Bounty likely sank during Hurricane Sandy because of its captain’s “reckless decision” to sail into the path of the storm with an inexperienced crew. The federal report also concluded that Bounty’s owners “did nothing” to convince the ship’s captain to change course away from the harsh storm.

Of the 16 people aboard the sailing ship at the time of the sinking, three were seriously injured, one was killed and the captain went missing at sea. His body was never recovered.

Acadia is seeking to regain $4 million that was paid out under the ship’s hull insurance policy and another $100,000 that was paid out to compensate loss of earnings. Acadia had also paid out a $1 million advance to cover the Bounty’s legal fees in the suit involving a dead sailor’s family.

If the contract is voided by the courts, Acadia has vowed to return the ship owner’s insurance payments made in the year before the sinking.

Acadia’s attorney, Julia Moore of the New York City firm McLaughlin & Stern, declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying she prefers to have the court filings “speak for themselves.”

[email protected]