The Delta Queen steamboat, which shares the honor of being a National Historic Landmark with the Belle of Louisville, is a step closer to being able to return to overnight passenger excursions on America’s waterways.
The Senate passed a bill Monday to exempt the Delta Queen from a federal maritime measure that was intended to prohibit cruise ships predominantly made of wood from carrying passengers overnight because of fire-safety concerns.Â The Senate vote was 85-12, and the measure now goes to the House of Representatives.
The Delta QueenÂ has been barred from carrying overnight passengers since an exemption to the 1966 Safety at Sea Act for the vessel lapsed in 2008 and has not been renewed. Â The vessel then became aÂ dockside hotel in Chattanooga, Tennessee from 2009 until 2014. Â In 2015, new owners bought the vessel with a mission to completely restore the historic icon and restore overnight passenger service.
The Queen and the Belle of Louisville for decades contested in the Great Steamboat Race the week before the Kentucky Derby. Â Without the Queen, the race has continued with an annual duel between the Louisville authentic steamboat and the Belle of Cincinnati, a diesel-powered riverboat.
David Karem, executive director of the Louisville Waterfront Development Corp., said in an interview Tuesday that his agency strongly supports the return of the Delta Queen to overnight cruising â and, if so, the likely frequent stops in Louisville.
He also said that a renewal of the historic rivalry in the Great Steamboat Race “would be wonderful.”
Cornel Martin, president and CEO of the Delta Queen Steamboat Co. that owns the Queen, said in a release that “the fact that the U.S. Senate would make time in their extremely busy schedule to consider this legislation is a testament to the importance of the Delta Queen to Americaâs history.”
The 285-foot-long, 88-cabin vessel remains in dry dock in Houma, Louisiana. Â But the owners intend to move it to Kimmswick, Missouri, ifÂ cruising rights are restored.
Officials of the Delta Queen company last year opened corporate offices, the Port of Call Restaurant, and gift shop in Kimmswick. The site is south of St. Louis on the Mississippi River.
The release said that the “vesselâs return to Americaâs rivers will initiate millions of dollars in repair work,Â provide more than 175 permanent jobs aboard the vessel and in the companyâsÂ corporate headquarters and bring thousands of expected new visitors each year toÂ more than 80 river towns and ports along” the Mississippi, Ohio and other rivers. Â That would surely include Louisville.
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The Delta Queen was launched in 1927, initially carryingÂ passengers, cargo and automobiles between Sacramento, CalififorniaÂ and San Francisco.
From 1946 to 2008, the Delta Queen operated as an overnightÂ cruise vessel.
Missouri’s congressional delegation is leading the effort, to restore the Queen’s passenger service rights. Â The pending bill would require the Delta Queen to annually modify 10 percent of the wooden portions of the vessel â mostly cabins and public areas. The hull of the Delta Queen is already steel.
Reporter Sheldon S. Shafer can be reached at 502-582-7089, or via email at [email protected]
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