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Delta Queen Rip

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know you don't see many paddleboats on the blue highways, but the fate of the old Delta Queen gave me pause...shares a birthyear with Route 66 as well (1926)...there is a campaign to save the Delta Queen (http://www.steamboats.org/save-the-delta-queen-2007.html)... Tsingtao Kip


Can the Delta Queen be saved?

By Bill Lambrecht


Sunday, Aug. 19 2007


WASHINGTON — In a campaign that stretches to the rivers of Europe, steamboat

enthusiasts are lobbying to save the famed Delta Queen after Congress refused

to renew a fire-safety exemption that has let it operate for nearly four



The elegant, multideck paddle-wheeler has plied the Mississippi and other

rivers for 81 years, recalling a slower-moving era of opulence and romance.

Since 1970, the Delta Queen has toured on overnight trips only through an

exemption from Coast Guard regulations for vessels built primarily of wood.


But this summer, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee refused

to renew the Delta Queen's 10-year exemption when it sent a catch-all Coast

Guard bill to the floor.


The committee's chairman, Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., is adamant; he asserts

that Congress has given no other boat such an exemption.


"I can't imagine the number of lives that could be lost if a fire started on

the Delta Queen when everyone is asleep," he said. "Congress would never exempt

a particular 747 aircraft from FAA safety standards, and we should not exempt a

passenger vessel carrying hundreds of sleeping people from Coast Guard safety



Losing the exemption would prevent the Delta Queen from running overnight

cruises after November 2008. Cruises on a ship rich with mahogany and teak,

adorned with stained glass and antiques and featuring fine dining and deluxe

linens, are what appeal to well-heeled travelers. Bookings on a seven-night

cruise from St. Louis to Nashville next year are advertised at between $2,300

and $3,600 per person for staterooms.


The committee action was an early step in the congressional process. But

Seattle-based Majestic America Line, the ship's owner since last year,

surprised Delta Queen fans by seemingly giving up and announcing a farewell

celebration for the Delta Queen next year. The boat's fate has not been spelled



The developments have riled Delta Queen devotees as well as fans of steamboats

and river culture in general. In an Internet campaign this month, they are

trying to persuade Congress to allow the last overnight sternwheeler to



"It's a relic of American history," said Nori Muster, an Arizona Realtor whose

late father, Bill Muster, led the last such exemption fight 38 years ago.


"People who love the boat must rise up in a movement to save it, or at least

pay for its retirement, or it's going to end up a gambling boat or something

that would be sacrilegious."




Whatever happens, the Delta Queen has survived long enough and with such a

storied past that it is recognized as a National Historical Landmark.


The 240-foot-long Queen was built in 1926 along with its twin, the Delta King,

which fell on hard times before being converted to a hotel and restaurant along

the Sacramento River. In their early years in California, the King and Queen

were World War II military vessels ferrying naval reservists and wounded



After it was bought in 1946, the Queen made a 5,261-mile journey through the

Panama Canal to New Orleans, before starting service on Midwestern rivers that

continues to this day.


It began landing in St. Louis in 1954, and for many years participated in an

annual summer "race" from New Orleans to St. Louis with the Mississippi Queen



But in the 1960s, two incidents focused attention on the issue of cruise ship



In 1963, the Greek ship Lakonia caught fire on a Christmas cruise in the Canary

Island, taking 125 lives. Two years later, 90 people perished when the Yarmouth

Castle, a multi-wooden deck boat built the same year as the Delta Queen, caught

fire on a cruise from Miami to Nassau. These disasters prompted the 1965 Safety

of Life at Sea treaty, and a new resolve by the Coast Guard to enforce safety

rules that required overnight passenger ships to be built with nonflammable



The Delta Queen would have been relegated to day cruises soon after if Rep.

Edward Garmatz, D-Md., chairman of the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries

Committee, had had his way.


In a letter to House members in 1970 with hand-drawn skulls and crossbones,

Garmatz wrote: "I hope the Delta Queen never burns. But if it does, the blood

will be on Congress, not on the expert agencies which told us to stop the



But a campaign that included Vicki Webster, of St. Louis, who worked in the

Richard M. Nixon White House at the time, along with Johnny Cash and other

notables, won an exemption from Coast Guard rules. Rep. Leonor K. Sullivan,

D-St. Louis, succeeded Garmatz as chairman of the House committee and fought to

retain the exemption.


Webster is upset now by what she calls "the stupidity of it all. It's a typical

case of people wanting to be protected from Day One from harm. You might have

to ride on planes and buses and streetcars from time to time. But nobody has to

ride on the Delta Queen."




The Coast Guard didn't support the exemption then and doesn't now, reiterating

in a statement last week that the exemption would pose "an unacceptable risk."

The statement adds that the Delta Queen still could make sightseeing runs and

voyages without overnight guests.


The vessel is subject to frequent inspections. For instance, records show that

the Coast Guard found improper wiring "creating a possible fire hazard" in an

inspection in February in New Orleans. It was later fixed.


Majestic America Line, which has an office in St. Louis, argues that training,

sprinklers and various fire and smoke detection devices provide ample

protection for passengers. The company insists that it lobbied vigorously to

retain the exemption and didn't declare the cause lost until Oberstar and his

Senate counterpart, Daniel Inouye, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and

Transportation, each said no.


"We'd be ecstatic if someone were to carry the torch at this point," said

Joseph McCarthy, chief counsel for Ambassadors International, Majestic's parent



Thus far, efforts by Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, and others who have

backed the exemption, have fallen short.


Meanwhile, a Save the Delta Queen Internet campaign organized from Germany is

picking up steam.


Franz Neumeier, who started the campaign, said, "It doesn't look good at the

moment." Neumeier, 38, who edits two computer magazines in Munich, spoke while

cruising the Ohio River on another steamboat, the American Queen.


Longtime Delta Queen fans like Beau Hampton, who has played Dixieland drums on

many cruises, says he sees no valid issue based on his work on 50 vessels.


"It's a joke. If a fire breaks out, you just pull over to the side of the

river. It's not like we're going to sink or anything," he said.


Others, like Arizona's Nori Muster, see more at stake than cruises.


"Boats are my deities," said Muster. "They are symbols of something good about

America. They represent innocence and progress, and they tell us a lot about

human folly."

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I saw the news about the expiring exemption but not the campaign to keep it going. I've long wanted to ride her and considered splurging on a three nighter right before the Tall Stacks Festival here last year. I talked myself out of it and felt a major twinge of regret the instant I read the first hint that she might be retired. If she isn't saved, it's unlikely there will be any bargain cruises during her final months. I've never been on board but I've seen her many times in port or passing on the river. She's a beauty. Guess I better get over to http://www.save-the-delta-queen.org/ to see what I can do.

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