Queen loses another bid
that would allow it to operate
are scheduled to build support
for historic vessel
(June 2008) For years, residents along the
Ohio River have listened for the sound of a familiar calliope to indicate
the legendary Delta Queen, with her beautiful red sternwheel, was nearing
their towns. Unfortunately, however, a defeat in the U.S. House of Representatives
of an exemption that would have allowed the historic steamboat to continue
operating may end Delta Queen trips up the Ohio River.
by Don Ward
Delta Queen makes a stop in
in early May, a day after
winning the steamboat race at the
Kentucky Derby Festival in Louisville.
On April 24, a House rules committee voted 9-4 against
allowing the amendment to the Coast Guard Reauthorization Bill to reach
the House floor. U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, used a parliamentary
maneuver to bring the amendment to a floor vote, but lawmakers defeated
the measure by a vote of 208-195. U.S. Rep. Baron Hill, D-Ind., voted
for the extension.
Chabot blamed labor unions and partisan politics for the vote rejecting
the amendment that could have kept the Delta Queen from having to end
its overnight cruise packages.
The Queen must cease her long-distance voyages in November 2008 unless
an exemption can be obtained from a federal law forbidding wooden superstructures
on vessels that carry 50 or more passengers on overnight trips, according
to Majestic America Line, which owns the boat.
The historic riverboat has been operating with a special Congressional
exemption from the federal Safety at Sea Act since 1968, an exemption
that has been renewed eight times. The safety act bans the use of wooden
vessels for overnight cruises. Backers of the exemption claim the Delta
Queen deserves special treatment because of its historical significance
and recently upgraded fire-safety systems. With the exemption scheduled
to expire on Nov. 1, local Congressional members pushed for an extension
U.S. Rep James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the House Transportation
and Infrastructure Committee, blocked the exemption from reaching the
House floor for a vote. In previous years, and as recently as last year,
Oberstar has voted at least twice to support the Queens exemption.
Some of the opposition to the exemption had been blamed on a labor dispute
involving Majestic America Line, the company that bought the Delta Queen
The company did not renew a collective bargaining agreement with the
Seafarers International Union.after taking over management of the Delta
The Seafarers union previously represented most Delta Queen workers.
The union had supported the exemption in the past, but now opposes it,
says Joseph McCarthy, general counsel for Ambassadors International,
which owns Majestic America Line.
A statement on the unions website adamantly denies that it could
or would guarantee approval of the waiver. The statement said
the union makes every effort to assist our contracted companies
and potentially could present a persuasive argument concerning
the exemption because of its safety expertise.
During an interview in May when the Delta Queen made a stop in Madison,
Ind., Co-Captain Buford Wilson, who has worked on the iconic steamboat
for 27 years, said the entire company is involved in trying to save
the Delta Queen from forced retirement. We are doing everything
we can, he said. Wilkinson feels that public support will help
save the Queen. Shell keep running, he said.
Willkinson, who resides in Vicksburg, Miss., when he is not aboard the
Delta Queen, started as a deckhand and worked his way up to captain.
Paul Thoeney, of Franklin, La., shares the responsibilities of piloting
the treasured ship.
Sherrin and Ken Kraus, of Hanover Beach, Ind., were on hand when the
Delta Queen made its stop in Madison. They have taken two cruises aboard
the Delta Queen and have planned to be on one of her final voyages in
The tradition of the Delta Queen is important to people who live
on the river, said Sherrin. It is terrible that she may
be forced to retire.
Betsy Coradine, of Indian Harbour, Fla., also stood at the riverfront
in support of the Delta Queen when she docked in Madison. The
politicians dont understand the tradition and culture that surrounds
the steamboat, she said. Shes one of a kind; it doesnt
cost them anything to vote in support of her.
Built in 1926, the Delta Queen is registered as a National Historic
Landmark and is the last of thousands of operational steam-powered stern-wheelers
that used to be seen traveling the rivers in the United States. She
was inducted into the National Maritime Hall of Fame in 2004.
A veteran of World War II and the only steamboat to transit the Panama
Canal, the Delta Queen has been host to three U.S. presidents and a
princess. Numerous celebrities and other dignitaries have graced her
hand-crafted decks and stately rooms.
She can accommodate up to 176 passengers on her four luxurious decks,
and for years has been a beloved fixture along the Mississippi, Ohio,
Tennessee, Arkansas, Black Warrior and Cumberland rivers.
Though its decks and superstructure are wood, its hull is steel. The
boats state-of-the-art fire safety system can instantly pinpoint
any problem and is monitored 24 hours a day.
Numerous rallies have been planned in support of the Delta Queen along
the Ohio River. On May 26, a rally was held in Madison.
For more information about efforts to save
the Delta Queen, visit: www.save-the-delta-queen.org.
Back to June 2008 Articles.