Delta Queen has new owner, could sail again

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The paddlewheeler's new owner hopes to have the Delta Queen back on the river by summer 2016.
The paddlewheeler's new owner hopes to have the Delta Queen back on the river by summer 2016.

The historic paddlewheeler Delta Queen has been purchased by a newly formed company, and legislation has been reintroduced in Congress that would allow the storied steamboat to ply the Mississippi River once again.

The purchase of the 88-passenger Delta Queen was finalized last month, when it was acquired by the Delta Queen Steamboat Company, a newly formed Delaware limited liability company, from Xanterra Parks & Resorts.

“My partners and I are thrilled to be taking this critical first step toward the preservation and restoration of this important piece of American and river history,” said Cornel Martin, president and CEO of the Delta Queen Steamboat Company, which is planning to get the Delta Queen back on the river by summer 2016.

Built in 1926, the Delta Queen has a steel hull and a wooden superstructure. After launching, it carried passengers, cargo and automobiles between Sacramento and San Francisco, Calif. From 1946 to 2008, the Delta Queen operated as an overnight passenger vessel along the Mississippi River System. Since 2009, the vessel has been docked in Chattanooga, Tenn., where it has operated as a floating hotel.

Currently, the Delta Queen cannot legally sail overnight cruises because its congressional exemption from fire safety laws, renewed nine times over the past 40 years, expired on Oct. 31, 2008.

But U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) reintroduced legislation Wednesday that could help the Delta Queen resume cruise operations.

Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) said the bill has “strong bipartisan support,” and that he is “cautiously optimistic” it will be approved by Congress and signed into law by President Obama.

“Now that the Delta Queen has been purchased by a group that plans to return her to passenger service, it is time for Congress to act,” Chabot said in a release. The representative said the bill has “strong bipartisan support,” and that he is “cautiously optimistic” it will be approved by Congress. He also indicated that he is hopeful President Obama would likely to sign it into law “since he had cosponsored similar legislation when he served in the Senate.”

Chabot’s proposed legislation would restore the Delta Queen’s exemption from the Safety of Life at Seas Act (SOLAS), a law that banned wooden ships from carrying 50 or more overnight passengers at sea, until 2028.

The Delta Queen is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is classified as a National Historic Landmark. The steamboat was also recently designated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as a National Treasure.

It is estimated the Delta Queen will need up to $7 million in repairs before the vessel is ready to sail again, according to the National Trust. In addition to restoring the Delta Queen’s historic features, necessary upgrades also include replacing the World War I-era boilers, steam line, generators and electric panels to prepare the ship for active service, the National Trust stated in an article about the vessel.

“Our goal is to have the Delta Queen return to cruising America’s waterways in 2016 following extensive mechanical and hotel renovations,” Martin stated in a release.

Additional information about the Delta Queen Steamboat Company can be found on its Facebook page as well as on Twitter.

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