As inscribed on the memorial to the George Prince Ferry, located at the East Bank Bridge Park in Destrehan, La.: "When you pass
through the water, I shall be with you; in the rivers you shall not
drown. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your
Savior." – Isaiah 43:2-3
On Oct. 20, 1976, the worst ferry disaster in the history of the United States occurred on the Mississippi River in St. Charles Parish. Seventy-seven lives were lost. The people of Louisiana will never forget you.
It was 40 degrees Fahrenheit and dark at dawn, without fog, as the 50-year-old George Prince Ferry
was making its passageway across the Mississippi River from Destrehan to Luling. The skipper was captain Gene Auletta. Ninety-five people were aboard that morning, most of them young men who worked at the plants on the riverbank.
As the George Prince
traveled close to a mile from the East Bank to the West Bank, a 22,000-ton Norwegian tanker, the Frosta
, sighted the ferry dangerously close to the front of the ship's bow. Pilot Nicholas Colombo signaled the George Prince several times, but it was too late. A massive collision ensued.
Relatives and friends of those aboard the George Prince anxiously stood vigil on the Mississippi River levee for days, watching the rescue efforts and waiting for news of their loved ones. Hard hats and lunch pails washed ashore on the riverbank. Gov. Edwin Edwards walked through those assembled there, attempting to console the families. President Gerald Ford's personal emissary, Ed Foreman, was also at the disaster site.
This tragedy spurred changes in maritime law. Ships in the river now legally have the right of way over smaller vessels. The Coast Guard now subjects pilots and all other employees on vessels to random drug and alcohol testing.
The Hale Boggs Memorial Bridge was under construction a the time of the accident. It was opened in 1983, thus ending the Destrehan-Luling ferry run.The bell from the George Prince Ferry is on display at the East Regional Library, 160 W. Campus Drive in Destrehan, during normal library hours. For more information about the George Prince Ferry Disaster, visit Wikipedia.