Delta Queen on the Move

February 19, 2015 by Shaw Sprague

Better days are ahead for the historic riverboat, Delta Queen. After many years on the market without a willing buyer, Mr. Cornell Martin, president and CEO of the Delta Queen Steamboat Company, this week completed the purchase of the Delta Queen and plans to substantially repair the vessel have already begun.

"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 Martin, "We look forward to the day when the Delta Queen will once again be able to ply America's waterways and allow passengers to relive the experiences of Mark Twain and his unique cast of river characters from the decks of a true 1927 steamboat."

It is estimated the Delta Queen will need as much as $7 million in repairs before she is ready to sail again. In addition to restoring the Delta Queen's historic features, necessary upgrades also include replacing the World War I-era boilers, steamline, generators and electric panels to prepare the ship for active service. "Our goal is to have the Delta Queen return to cruising America's waterways in 2016 following extensive mechanical and hotel renovations," said Mr. Martin.

The Delta Queen has a storied history that began in 1927 when she began service as an overnight passenger vessel between Sacramento and San Francisco, California. After a brief period of service in the U.S. Navy during World War II, the vessel was sold as war surplus to Greene Line Steamers of Cincinnati, Ohio. From 1946 to 2008, the Delta Queen operated as an overnight cruise vessel along many of the prominent river and waterways running through America's heartland, including the Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, Cumberland and Arkansas Rivers.

As the last operational steam paddle-wheeler that provides overnight accommodations, the National Trust has long sought to ensure the long term preservation of this important piece of maritime history. The Delta Queen is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is classified as a National Historic Landmark. In 2013, the National Trust designated the Delta Queen as one of its National Treasures and work began to help return the Delta Queen to active cruising on our inland waterways.

In large measure this has meant working with Congress to renew a statutory exemption from a law that prohibits overnight passenger travel on vessels with significant wood construction. Although the Delta Queen's hull is made of steel, her superstructure is constructed of wood. As such, she requires a statutory exemption from the Coast Guard's fire retardant materials regulations for its continued operations on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Congress has approved extending the Delta Queen's exemption from Coast Guard fire retardant materials regulation nine times over the last 40 years with the last exemption expiring in 2008. The National Trust will continue its work to help move legislation to return the Delta Queen to active service.

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