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The Party's Over for the Princess Louise

October 31, 1989|SHERYL STOLBERG and MARC LACEY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The cruise ship Princess Louise--a popular floating restaurant that occupied a berth at Los Angeles Harbor for two decades until it fell on hard times last year--mysteriously capsized Monday at a shipyard slip where it was being readied for sale.

"She fell splat into the water and then it was glog, glog, glog," said Michael Barnes, first mate of the Spirit of Los Angeles, a 600-passenger ship that was on a luncheon cruise nearby when the Princess Louise went down about 12:30 p.m.

A security guard was the only person on board when the ship began to sink, but she jumped to safety before the beleaguered vessel went down.

Officials at the shipyard, Southwest Marine of San Pedro, offered no explanation or comment about what happened to the Princess Louise.

The president of the Bank of San Pedro, which repossessed the ship after its owner declared bankruptcy last year, said he is not certain it can be salvaged. The vessel is insured for $1.5 million, bank President Lance Oak said.

"We don't know what happened," he said. "A guard heard a noise and then it sank. We'll have to let the insurance company take it from here."

Other than Los Angeles Port Police, who responded to the incident Monday, no law enforcement agencies are involved in the case. It is now up to the bank and the shipyard to determine whether to attempt to right the vessel or remove it.

The 67-year-old ship, which in its grander days played host to countless weddings, bar mitzvahs and high school proms, looked tattered and lifeless Monday afternoon as its starboard side lay completely submerged in 24 feet of water.

Two shipyard employees who asked not to be identified said the vessel had been removed from a dry dock and placed in the water sometime within the last several weeks. Witnesses said Monday that they saw the 300-foot vessel listing. Then suddenly it flopped over into the water.

Among those who watched the once-elegant vessel go down was Ted Goldstein, a spokesman for Los Angeles City Atty. James K. Hahn. Goldstein and about a dozen other members of a citizens advisory panel were on board the Angelena II, a Port of Los Angeles sightseeing ship, when they cruised past Southwest Marine.

"As we were coming alongside, the ship was listing," Goldstein said. "It began sinking fast. The waterline was rising rapidly. Pontoons and furniture were falling into the water. It took all of three minutes and then it finally flopped over. The mast snapped off like a toothpick."

In its heyday, the Princess Louise--a former Canadian ocean liner named after a daughter of Queen Victoria--cruised the Alaskan straits from Vancouver, Canada, to Skagway, Alaska. The ship was converted into a restaurant in 1966 and operated at Terminal Island from then until 1979, when it was moved to Berth 94 in San Pedro, beneath the Vincent Thomas Bridge.

But the restaurant eventually fell upon hard times. Its previous owner, Marion Perkov, filed for bankruptcy protection in April, 1988. The Port of Los Angeles forced the Princess Louise to leave its berth last January to make room for the Spirit of Los Angeles.

The ship was tied up at Todd Shipyards in San Pedro for nearly nine months after that, but was moved to Southwest Marine about a month ago for repairs in preparation for sale. Oak, the bank president, said that two or three potential buyers had expressed interest but that no deals had been reached.

The downfall of the Princess Louise has saddened those who knew the ship in better times.

Goldstein, the city attorney's spokesman, put it this way: "It just flopped over, rather quietly. It didn't make an enormous crash. It just died. It was a sad ending for what was a happy, party-time boat."

ON THE RECORD

"It just flopped over, rather quietly. It didn't make an enormous crash. It just died. It was a sad ending for what was a happy, party-time boat."--Ted Goldstein, a spokesman for Los Angeles City Atty. James Hahn, who was nearby when the cruise ship Princess Louise--a popular floating restaurant--mysteriously capsized.

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