Delta Queen soon to see final Mississippi River voyage

Published 12:25 am Monday, August 27, 2007

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Delta Queen, a wooden paddle-wheeler that’s carried three presidents and a princess on the Mississippi River, will make its final overnight cruise next year unless the federal government extends its exemption from modern fire codes.

A group organized by a Munich, Germany-based riverboat enthusiast,, is campaigning to renew the exemption, which recently failed to gain support in a House committee.

“The Mississippi is not the Mississippi without her,” former Memphis Queen captain Dale Lozier told The Commercial Appeal newspaper’s Washington bureau.

Email newsletter signup

The U.S. House’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has declined to extend the 10-year exemption, citing fears that the ship built in 1926 could become a fire hazard.

“I can’t imagine the number of lives that could be lost if a fire started on the Delta Queen when everyone is asleep,” said Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the committee.

Under the terms of the 1960 Safety of Lives at Sea Act, ships with more than 50 staterooms must be constructed of inflammable materials.

The Delta Queen accommodates 176 passengers on cruises that include the Mississippi, Ohio and Arkansas rivers. The ship’s owners have sought exemption from the rules but this year failed to win one when the congressional committee passed its version of the U.S. Coast Guard Reauthorization Act.

Coast Guard spokesman Angela Hirsch said the maritime safety agency has long been “concerned about the safety implications of a wooden vessel.”

The company that owns the Delta Queen, the Seattle-based Majestic America Line, said it is planning “a proper and well-deserved send-off” for next year’s last cruises.

The company also operates The Mississippi Queen and the American Queen.

In a statement, the company thanked U.S. Reps. John Tanner, D-Tenn.; Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.; Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss.; and Marion Berry, D-Ark., for their efforts in behalf of extending the exemption.

On Monday, Tanner released a statement saying, “The Delta Queen has been a part of the heritage of the Mississippi River for decades.

“For those of us who grew up in areas along the river, she was part of history. I continue to think it is important to continue that legacy for future generations.”

An official history of the Delta Queen says it has carried Presidents Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter and Princess Margaret of Britain. Its famous calliope was salvaged from a sunken showboat.

The Delta Queen was en route from Memphis to Little Rock on a seven-day cruise on Monday. Its final voyage, unless things change, will be an Oct. 31, 2008, trip to New Orleans.

Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau president Kevin Kane said that the city will “miss that piece of nostalgia,” but that larger and more modern vessels will continue to bring visitors to the Bluff City.