Two decades after it sank in a barge collision in Singapore harbor, the Calypso – a converted World War II minesweeper that became world-famous as the seagoing laboratory and film studio of French explorer Jacques Cousteau – could be underway again in spring 2016.
In postings this week on the Cousteau Society’s website, society president Francine Cousteau, the second wife of Cousteau who died in 1998, announced plans to complete the refurbishment and move the Calypso out of the Piriou shipyard at Concarneau, France. The ship languished for years, amid legal complications and frustrated restoration plans that fell through, culminating in early 2015 with a threat from the shipyard owner to auction it off.
A group of “generous and highly motivated international sponsors” made a breakthrough possible, according to the society. The ship is being re-powered with a pair of Volvo engines and other work should be complete by the end of April.
“When Calypso will return to the Mediterranean, she will be seaworthy and powered by her own two motors, as was Captain Cousteau’s wish,” Francine Cousteau wrote. “I am extremely happy to announce this great news, after a 20 year long struggle against adversity and various mishaps. I am grateful to those who have helped us, and I invite all of those who share our joy today to join us.”
The wood-hulled former Royal Navy minesweeper had been converted as a ferry when Cousteau, co-inventor of the Aqualung breathing apparatus that evolved into scuba gear, discovered her at Malta in 1950. With financial backing from a patron, Loel Guinness of the Irish brewing family, Cousteau upgraded and equipped the ship with other private donations and set out on his first expedition in 1951.
The Calypso after partially sinking in Singapore in 1996. Cousteau Society photo.Over the next four decades the Calypso became a global icon to audiences of Cousteau’s films and television programs, most famously “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau,” a television documentary series produced from 1968 to 1976.
In January 1996 the Calypso was in Singapore, preparing for an expedition on China’s Yellow River, when it was struck by a barge being moved. The impact led to flooding and the ship’s partial sinking. After 17 days the Calypso was raised and taken back to France. In the process, mistakes discovered in the ship’s original chain of title and registry delayed restoration work for a decade. The job finally started in 2007, with eye-watering costs in the millions of euros.
Once underway again, the Calypso will be used for education and scientific work, the society says.