The Bright Field was a Liberian-registered bulk carrier. She was 763 feet long and was capable of about 14 knots. Her owner was China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO), hence her crew was mostly Chinese.
On the afternoon of Saturday 14, 1996, her pilot was an American named Ted Davisson.
The Riverwalk Marketplace was built in 1984 as part of the New Orleans World's Fair. It's a half-mile-long shopping center, stretching along the East bank of the Mississippi river in downtown New Orleans. It, along with Canal Place, fills the niche of high-end shopping in the city, containing such stores as The Sharper Image, Brookstone, Abercrombie and Fitch, and The Gap.
The construction of the Riverwalk raised certain safety concerns, built as it is on docks over the river, utterly unprotected from passing vessels.
At about 2:30 pm on Saturday, December 14, 1996, the Bright Field was headed down the Mississippi, loaded with 56,000 tons of corn destined for Kashima, Japan. As she passed under the Crescent City Connection (twin bridges across the river), she lost an engine lube oil pump, which in turn brought down one of her engines.
Out of control, and carried by her own momentum, the ship veered wildly to port, and after about three minutes came up against the Riverwalk. At this point, the pilot (Daivisson) managed to drop anchor, causing the ship to neatly "parallel park" between two cruise ships and a riverboat casino with 800 people aboard.
Several shops in the mall were destroyed, including Cafe du Monde, Nine West and The Gap. In addition to this, 456 hotel rooms in the attached Hilton Riverside were rendered non-existent.
The end result for the businesses was $250 million in damages as well as another $250 million in losses. By some fluke, no one was killed or even seriously injured.
The ship itself was left with an eighteen-foot gash below the water-line. In order to safely pull her out, the bulk of the corn had to be unloaded so as the damage would be lifted into the air. Once she was safely downriver, barges were moved into her place to shore up the damaged building.
The Bright Field was subsequently repaired, and re-christened the Bright Star, and is still in service.
The Riverwalk was quickly repaired, and is still just as exposed to the river as before. To be fair, there's little anyone can do to protect it. A chorus of "I-told-you-so's" rose up with news of the accident. People who so many years ago had voiced their concerns over the nature of the mall had now been vindicated. It was little comfort, however. The mall is still operating just as it was before.