For 81 years, the sternwheel steamer Delta Queen has traveled along America's rivers. But its current owner, Majestic America Line, announced yesterday that the United States Congress decided not to renew the boat's special exemption from safety requirements prohibiting ships from having a wooden superstructure. (See our recent feature for more on safety regulations that threaten older sips.) As a result, the exemption will expire in November 2008 and the boat (it is never referred to as a "ship") will have to be withdrawn from service.
According to Joe Ueberroth, President and CEO of Majestic America's parent company Ambassadors International, "We are incredibly disappointed by this decision, but we are extremely grateful to those who worked tirelessly on behalf of the Delta Queen to preserve her place on the Mississippi River."
Among those who helped are members of Congress from districts and states that Delta Queen visits and from Majestic America’s home state of Washington. The company -- which in June publicly asked for assistance in saving the boat -- also thanked the Web site Steamboats.org for its help.
But while Majestic America has presented the boat's retirement as a done deal and will apparently not make any further efforts to secure an exemption, Steamboats.org's owner Franz Neumeier and its members see things differently. According to the Web site's home page, "[The] campaign to save the steamboat Delta Queen just started," and the site still asks its readers to contact their Senators and Representatives to ask for an exemption, as well as to sign a petition to that effect. Another group of Delta Queen fans operate save-the-delta-queen.org.
Majestic America Line says it's considering how to best preserve the boat after its retirement; however, it doesn't have any specific plans yet. Without the exemption, though, the only hope for the Delta Queen is that it will be preserved as an attraction (its twin, Delta King, is a successful hotel and restaurant in Sacramento). Whatever becomes of the boat, the line doesn't intend to let Delta Queen slip away quietly; the company is planning a series of special events in 2008 to commemorate Delta Queen's last year in service.
Built in Scotland in 1926 and shipped in pieces to California, where it operated on the Sacramento River, the Delta Queen served in World War II and then moved to the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers in 1947. Its owner, Greene Line, was later renamed Delta Queen Steamboat Company in the boat's honor; the company merged with American West River Cruises last year to form Majestic America Line.
In 1970, the Delta Queen was recognized as the last overnight paddle steamer in the U.S., and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Later in the 1970's the boat was first threatened by fire safety regulations prohibiting wooden superstructures (like other steamers of its era, it has a steel hull and wooden superstructure). The boat's owners expected to have to retire it, and a replacement steamer, the Mississippi Queen, was built in 1976 (the American Queen was added in 1996). But after over 250,000 signatures and intense lobbying, an Act of Congress, which had to be renewed every ten years, was passed that saved the historic boat.
Made a National Historic Landmark in 1989, the Delta Queen has previously had little trouble getting the periodic exemptions required to keep it operating; this year, however, Congress -- despite the boat's perfect safety record -- opted not to renew the exemption.
Delta Queen isn't the only famous Scottish-built vessel being retired in 2008; Cunard recently announced that the legendary 1969-built Queen Elizabeth 2 has been sold, and will become a hotel and museum in Dubai. QE2, like Delta Queen, will retire in November 2008. It remains to be seen whether Delta Queen -- whose fame can't match QE2's -- will be able to enjoy a similar fate.
--by Douglas Newman, Cruise Critic contributor
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Majestic America Line Announces Delta Queen Retirement
August 2, 2007