Towboat hits sunken replica of warship in Mississippi River

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

DONALDSONVILLE, La. -- A towboat ran into the sunken wreckage of a replica 17th-century warship in the Mississippi River, forcing the Coast Guard to shut down a 10-mile stretch of the river.

The wreckage of Le Pelican punched a hole that pierced three fuel tanks on the towboat Senator Stennis on Saturday, spilling about 30 gallons of diesel fuel into the river, according to a Coast Guard statement.

Nobody was hurt in the 1 p.m. accident, but the river was closed from 3:30 to about 8:45 p.m., when it was reopened to one-way traffic, said Lt. Stephen Nutting of the Coast Guard's Marine Safety Office in New Orleans said.

The ship, described in various news reports as anywhere from 165 to 178 feet long, was well over 100 feet tall when its topmasts were rigged.

The original Le Pelican, a warship commanded by Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d'Iberville, sank in 1697 after first sinking two English vessels and running off a third during a battle for a trading post on Hudson Bay in Canada.

Canadian philanthropist Stewart McDonald built the replica for a reported $15 million. A New Jersey businessman bought the ship and moved it to New Orleans in September 1995. The city of Donaldsonville bought it in 2002 for $55,000.

Le Pelican was docked at Donaldsonville, only to sink in November 2002 and again in March 2004.

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