Published on Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Iconic steamboat Delta Queen may sail again

The Delta Queen, the iconic steamboat that cruised the Mississippi River for decades, may be back in service soon.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has endorsed a bill to allow the ship to resume operations.

The Delta Queen was drydocked in 2008 under a law prohibiting wooden vessels from commercial operation because of fire-safety concerns.

It has been docked in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where it operates as a floating hotel.

The bill would grant the ship a 15-year statutory exemption from the requirement.

"With the American Queen having returned to the Mississippi last year, and the most famous of all the steamboats, the Delta Queen, now enjoying a resurgence of support, steamboating on the Mighty Mississippi is making a big comeback," said Lee Powell, director of the Delta Grassroots Caucus, which is backing the effort.

"This vessel is a representation of the Mid-South's rich heritage revolving around the Mississippi River and I fully support its ability to operate on the river as it has for generations," said Rep. Rick Crawford, another supporter.

The paddlewheel steamship, built in 1927, plied the Sacramento River in California until 1940, when it was put into service by the US Navy; it served as a hospital transport ship following the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

It resumed regular passenger service along the Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers in 1948.

Powell said the Delta Queen has an exemplary safety record and modern fire-safety techniques.

The wood structure of the upper deck has been replaced with steel, and there's a smoke detection system, sprinklers and a 24-hour fire watchman.

Still, not everyone is convinced. Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) called the bill "irresponsible," citing a 2008 Coast Guard inspection report that said the ship "presents an unnecessary and unacceptable accumulation of combustible fire load."

By Cheryl Rosen

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