Donaldsonville sued over sunken ship

Allison B. Hudson

An Alabama firm filed a lawsuit on Monday against the City of Donaldsonville due to negligence involving a 17th century warship replica.

The ship was to be a riverside tourist attraction for Ascension Parish, but the vessel sank twice before ever being boarded by a tourist.

Cooper/T. Smith of Cooper/T. Smith Stevedoring Company Inc., of Mobile, Ala., claims in the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Baton Rouge, that the relics of the ship, Le Pelican, damaged one of its boats.

The lawsuit did not specify an amount for damages.

Le Pelican was a full-sized wooden reproduction of a 1697 warship commanded by Pierre le Moyne, Sieur d’Iberville, on Hudson Bay in Canada.

The city purchased the warship duplicate in May 2002 for $55,000 from the Donaldsonville-based Fort Butler Foundation. The plan was to turn the ship into a tourist attraction on Donaldsonville’s waterfront.

Le Pelican sank in the Mississippi River in November 2002 and again in March 2004. The ship could not be reclaimed from the river after the sinking.

The second suit accuses Donaldsonville of negligence by allowing the ship to interfere with navigation and maritime commerce and by failing to properly mark the wreck or otherwise warn vessels traveling on the river.

In January 2008 a lighted buoy was placed near the Le Pelican wreckage after a tugboat ran into Le Pelican, puncturing a hole in three of the tugboat’s fuel tanks, closing a 10-mile stretch of the Mississippi River for about 17 hours and spilling 30 gallons of diesel oil into the river.