Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Fight over Delta Queen future gets national notice

The historic Delta Queen steamboat is "scheduled to be retired despite its exemplary safety record, its undeniable status as a national historic treasure from the great days of Mark Twain, and its constructive economic impact generating tourists dollars in the Mississippi Delta region," says the Mississippi Delta Grassroots Caucus Web site. The effort to save the boat received national attention Friday when it was featured on Fox News "Special Report with Brit Hume," which suggested that the boat's new non-union status has put it in jeopardy.

House Transportation Committee Chair James Oberstar is leading the effort to end the Delta Queen's overnight lodging operation on grounds that boat's largely wooden structure makes it "an inherent fire hazard," Fox's Steve Brown reported. Captain Paul Thoeny replied, "The vessel is safer now than it has been in its entire history." The Delta Queen it is equipped with an array of fire alarms, sprinklers and fire suppression systems. Legally, vessels constructed with the amount of wood present in the Delta Queen cannot carry passengers overnight, but Congress has granted the vessel exemptions for more than 40 years. The current exemption expires Nov. 1, and according to The Economist, "the effort to renew the exemption ran into a sandbar in the shape of James Oberstar." Oberstar references the General Slocum in his opposition of another exemption, The Economist reports. The Slocum caught fire in New York harbour in 1904 killing more than 1,000, which made it the worst man tragedy in New York until September 11, 2001. No fatalities have occurred aboard the Delta Queen, and the ship's only fire, which was quickly extinguished, was started in 2003 by a chafing dish. Oberstar says he will not consider another exemption despite voting for one two years ago, which was "just before the ship changed ownership and as a result the Delta Queen went from labor union crews to non-union labor crews," Brown said. "Some passengers see the boat being left high and dry because of politics."

The Coast Guard is helping the ship's owners shift to a daytime-only operation, which Brown reports is "no consolation to the Delta Queen's fans." Vicki Webster, Save the Delta Queen organizer, says, "There is only one authentic steamboat, and if she's not traveling, she doesn't mean a thing. I'd just as soon see her burn up." View the Fox story here.

The Delta Queen, designated a national historic landmark in 1989, was built in California in 1926 and is the only steam-powered sternwheeler that operates overnight in the U.S., the Majestic America Line Web site says. It has an 1897 steam calliope and the same ship's bell that rung when Twain traveled down the Mississippi in 1883 and was called into service as a floating barracks and as a ferry in San Francisco Bay during World War II. Eighty people crew the 285-foot long, 60-foot wide boat. (Photo from Majestic America Line)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Get up to the minute news about the Delta Queen at http://www.steamboats.org/steamboat-river-cruise-news.html