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French shipyard threatens to sell Calypso in Cousteau heritage row

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The boat was taken in 2007 to the Piriou Shipyard Olivier Bernard/Wikimedia Commons

The fate of the Calypso, the boat in which the celebrated French marine explorer Jacques Cousteau sailed the world, is uncertain as the owners have been ordered by court to remove it today from the shipyard where it has been docked for repairs for the last eight years.


The boat was taken in 2007 to the Piriou Shipyard, in Concarneau in Brittany, to be renovated and transformed into a quayside museum, at the cost of around a million euros.

But work stopped in 2009 following a disagreement between the shipyard and the Equipe Cousteau, whose president is Francine Cousteau, second wife of Jacques.

The Equipe Cousteau accused the shipyard of making mistakes, while the shipyard maintains that the owners changed their minds about the future use of the Calypso and wanted it to be made seaworthy again. That would have necessitated a much more complicated renovation and added 8 million euros to the cost.

A legal battle ensued and on 9 December the Equipe Cousteau was told to have the boat removed from the shipyard by 12 March, and to pay Piriou the 273,000-euro cost of repairs already undertaken, as well as compensation for the time it remained in dock.

Shipyard boss Pascal Piriou recently told journalists he intended to get a court order allowing him to sell the boat if it was not removed from the shipyard by 12 March.

“It must be possible to find wealthy people who would be interested in putting money into this project”, he said of the renovation costs, adding “it’s a huge amount of work, but it could be done.”

Pirou said he will make a statement on the Calypso on Friday.

The Equipe Cousteau website says the organisation hopes to find a “happy outcome to this episode, which it will make known as soon as possible.”

Yann Mauffret, boss of the nearby Guip shipyard in Brest, says he has been contacted by the Equipe Cousteau about the Calypso.

Pascale Bladier-Chassaigne of the Fondation du Patrimoine Maritime et Fluvial, which deals with matters concerning France’s maritime heritage, hopes that there will be a buyer for the Calypso.

“It would be a real shame not to find someone to take this on”, she said, adding that there was a real need to develop the idea of involving philanthropists or business sponsors for such projects.

The Calypso was built as a minesweeper in 1942 in the United States, before being bought by Cousteau.

In 1950 he began sailing the world’s oceans, making extraordinary documentaries and highlighting the damage caused by humans to the sea. He denounced what he called the “shameful rape of the seas, born of a mistaken idea of progress.”

He continued for 40 years, though the Calypso was shipwrecked off the coast of Singapore in January 1996, the year before he died.