This could be the last year that the 1926 steamboat Delta Queen, the country's last overnight paddle-wheel steamboat, will operate on America's rivers, thanks to the U.S. Congress.
Last July, for the first time in 37 years, Congress rejected Seattle-based owner Majestic America Line's request to waive the vessel from the Safety of Life at Sea Act, which restricts overnight guests to 50 rather than the boat's capacity of 164. It would have been the boat's seventh exemption from the 1966 act.
Now Congressman Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) is proposing a bill that would exempt the 285-foot-long steamboat, docked in New Orleans, from the act and keep it on the water for another 10 years.
Supporters say the wood boat has a steel hull and is equipped with a sprinkler system, so fire safety isn't an issue for the Delta Queen, which can land on a riverbank in minutes.
Nonetheless, the Delta Queen, a National Historic Landmark since 1989, will make its last 24 trips this year, Majestic announced in August.
"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," said Joe Ueberroth, President and CEO, Ambassadors International, which has owned and operated Majestic America Line since 2006, when it refused to employ union workers on its seven boats. "
"Our role in helping safely operate this vessel is one reason why the waiver has been granted in the past," the Seafarers' International Union said in a November statement. "At no time did the SIU demand or even request recognition for employment aboard all of Majestic's vessels."
The National Trust for Historic Preservation has offered tours on the historic steamboat, which is also one of the Trust's Historic Hotels of America. The Delta Queen has four decks, Tiffany-style stained-glass windows, an 1897 calliope, and the same steamboat bell that graced the ship Samuel Clemens rode in 1883.
The Delta Queen's Coast Guard-issued certificate expires in November, and the National Trust is overseeing one of its last tours, on Nov. 2-8.
To book a tour, call (800) 944-NTHP or visit http://www.nationaltrust.org/tours/2008/delta_queen.html.