Jacques Cousteau's Famous Ship Calypso Enters Rehab

PARIS — The widow of legendary marine explorer Jacques Cousteau said Tuesday she is trying to relaunch his iconic ship the Calypso — sunk, badly damaged and now in rehab — in time to mark the centennial of his birth.

Aboard the Calypso, Cousteau unlocked the mysteries of the sea for tens of millions of TV viewers in the 1960s and 1970s with his riveting documentary series, "The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau."

Francine Cousteau and the Cousteau Society announced a year of events what would have been the 100th birthday of the undersea pioneer, who with his red cap for a time became synonymous with the underwater universe.

The relaunching of the 140-feet ship would be a centerpiece of the centennial, which begins this week. Cousteau was born June 11, 1910, in Saint Andre de Cubzac in southwest France. He died 13 years ago at the age of 87.

"The Calypso is really the Eiffel Tower of the oceans," Francine Cousteau told a news conference. But funding to put it back in the water by May 2011 for a world educational tour is only a hope.

The Calypso, which began its life in 1943 as a British minesweeper, was sunk in an accident in Singapore a year before Cousteau's death. It sat underwater for three weeks and was badly damaged. The vessel was hauled back to France and is being refurbished by hand in a port in the northwestern region of Brittany. Cousteau's widow said some $4 million is still needed to complete the $8 million job.

Squabbling over ownership between members of the Cousteau clan and initial plans to turn it into a museum meant that sorting out its future took years.

"The Calypso is made to ply (the waters of) the planet," she said. Making it seaworthy again "is giving the Calypso back its soul ... so it can be an ambassador of the environment in the years to come."

Once seaworthy, the vessel, equipped with the two mini-submarines, underwater scooters and other devices developed by Cousteau, will visit ports of the world, she said.

Another highlight of the centennial will be under way within days — the filming expedition of three marine reserves in the Mediterranean. Conducted with the National Geographic Society, the project will compare findings with those documented by Cousteau in the 1940s. Son Pierre-Yves, currently in Corsica, is leading that project.

"In this year, the 100th anniversary of his birth, we owe it to his memory to ensure that the spirit of Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his work inspires new generations," the explorer's son said in a statement from the Cousteau Society.

The Cousteau Society and its French equivalent Equipe Cousteau carry out projects around the world, from the coastal waters of Sudan to a study of the condition of the Danube River delta. They have established 14 university chairs across the globe for the study of the oceans.

A special Cousteau Divers program is being developed so that recreational divers can help contribute to awareness of the world's oceans — which make up 72 percent of the planet's surface.

The launch of the year honoring Cousteau could not have come at better time, as the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has underscored the importance of ocean conservation, the organization said. An early defender of marine life, Cousteau long railed against ocean drilling by the oil industry and instead urged "more direct access to the sun's power."

"We hope that this (oil spill) will be a wake up call to help us change," said Tarik Chekchak, the Cousteau Society's director for science and environment.