Close, but no exemption for Delta Queen

Memphis, TN – The Delta Queen is the last steamboat to carry overnight passengers on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. Today, it stopped in Memphis as it makes its way to Cincinnati. It's the only wooden boat allowed to carry overnight passengers - and those days are numbered - unless Congress makes an exception.

Congressman Steve Chabot of Ohio yesterday argued on the House floor to re-enact the exemption for the Delta Queen to continue overnight voyages on the mighty Mississippi.

The Delta Queen was built in 1926. It's ornate with crystal chandeliers and light fixtures throughout, dark curved wood, crown molding and recessed ceiling panels. The main entry feels very much like the swank hotels of the early 1900's.

In 1966, wooden vessels were no longer allowed to carry more than 50 overnight passengers. This is due to terrible accidents that occurred at sea and on rivers.

Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Wayne Arguin says there are good reasons requiring that all boats carrying 50 or more passengers be made of steel instead of wood. For instance, the USS Sultana caught fire in the late 1800's and more than 1,500 people perished after the boiler exploded.

In the 40 years since the Delta Queen was granted an exemption, it has enjoyed overnight voyages without incident.

Yesterday, the exemption was defeated on the floor by a vote of 208 to 195.

Delta Queen historian Bill Wiemuth says the Delta Queen is not a replica of American history, but the real thing.

The Delta Queen is chugging upriver, stopping in Louisville on Wednesday and then continuing on to Cincinnati next Friday. The exemption is set to expire at the end of October. If it's not granted, then the Delta Queen will cease to offer overnight excursions, perhaps operation.