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'Bounty' nearly sinks while headed to St. Petersburg

By JOUNICE L. NEALY

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 6, 1998


The HMS Bounty, which has helped keep tourism afloat in St. Petersburg for more than 20 years, almost sank this weekend near Charleston, S.C., after three of its bilge pumps failed.

The 169-foot wooden ship was on its way from Massachusetts to Florida when the ship began to take water around 9:30 p.m. Saturday, said Coast Guard Lt.j.g. Simone Brisco.

A helicopter, two cutters, two Navy ships and a tug boat responded to the call, delivering five portable pumps to the crew of 22. No one was injured. There were no passengers on the 1960 replica of the original 18th century English ship used in the movie Mutiny on the Bounty.

A Navy damage control team boarded the ship to help remove water from the hull and stabilize the ship, which was then safe enough for the crew to steer to port.

Escorted by the Coast Guard, it arrived at the Charleston Maritime Center Sunday afternoon. The crew is waiting for new pumps to arrive.

There "may be a couple of days' delay to locate some new pumps and get moving again," said Normand Futoransky, president of the Tall Ship Bounty Foundation Inc.'s board of trustees. The foundation owns the ship. The ship still is scheduled to arrive at The Pier by the end of next week, Futoransky said.

Investigators say the ship began taking on water after it ran into a storm and caulking between the planks was loosened.

"It was not a phenomenal storm," said Lt. Jeff Carter, a senior investigating officer with the Coast Guard. But the weather was rough enough to bang it around, he said. After the caulking loosened, water began to seep inside.

The main dewatering pump, which operates on diesel fuel and had evidence of wear, failed first, Carter said.

The two backup pumps, which operate on electricity, failed after the wires got wet.

The Bounty began taking on between 100 to 200 gallons of water a minute, according to officials. Within two hours, the ship had taken on 1 foot, 3 inches of water, a sure sign that the ship was in danger of sinking.

Carter said the damage -- not including the hull -- is estimated at $4,000 to replace the pumps.

The Bounty already has weathered a stormy summer when a money dispute between ship and city officials left plans for the ship's return up in the air, the IRS put a lien against the foundation and officials in Massachusetts also demanded money.

A letter from Mayor David J. Fischer, saying that residents and tourists love it, helped persuade the ship's owners to bring it back to The Pier, its wintertime port. Futoransky has said the board would seek corporate donations to help pay for transportation. The city would try to help with marketing the ship.

The foundation had to work out a payment plan to the IRS for $47,000, money that was used to pay the agency's bills instead of employees' withholding taxes. That mismanagement took place before Futoransky came aboard.

Officials from the Fall River Office of Economic Development in Massachusetts has asked for $5,000 in interest payments on a $50,000 loan. Futoransky has refused to pay it, claiming that officials misconstrued the 1995 loan on the terms.

The ship first came to St. Petersburg in 1965 and docked year-round for 20 years. It returned in 1995 for wintertime visits.

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