Delta Queen Struggles


The Delta Queen needs Congressional legislation to be allowed to continue to operate. The historic boat also has been offered for sale. Tough times. But I will continue to look for the more hopeful developments.

HOPE: MEDIA COVERAGE

The Delta Queen’s struggle has received significant media coverage including The New York Times, USA Today, The Los Angeles Times, The Cincinnati Enquirer, The Louisville Post-Dispatch, The Pittsburgh Review-Tribune, National Public Radio, a recent profile on FOX NEWS with Britt Hume, and much more, including dozens upon dozens of local papers, radio and television.

Of course, we need more. We need to pursue every possible contact and opportunity. We need help delivering an alert to the situation and education about the issue to individuals (voters!), organizations, chambers of commerce, visitors centers, municipalities, and Congressional representatives across America.

We need a big voice. We need a talk-show host like Oprah Winfrey or Ellen Degeneres. Even as polarizing as he can be, Rush Limbaugh right now might get the issue some attention. He’s from river town Cape Girardeau and he might enjoy an opportunity to vilify James Oberstar since he’s a Democrat. In a much more positive tone, I’d love to see Garrison Keillor do a show about (or from) the Delta Queen. What about Hal Holbrook, the quintessential Mark Twain? Jimmy Carter rode the boat back in August 1979 and often is a voice of reason. Volunteer efforts to contact and involve persons like these have as yet been unsuccessful. But somebody out there knows how to make it happen. It’s a great story of the struggle to save an American icon, the last remnant of a remarkable chapter in American history as it fights for survival against corporate indifference, economic challenges, a Congressional struggle that at the least includes a misunderstanding of the boat’s safety, and includes the additional drama of partisan politics, and alleged Union influence.

Check back for frequent additions of links to media coverage about the Delta Queen’s plight. Also check the “Media Coverage” category on the side.

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in recent posts, I have been detailing the Delta Queen’s struggle with Congress to be allowed to continue to operate. To make matters worse, current owners have placed the boat up for sale. For many of us Delta Queen fans, these are really tough times. So let’s turn our attention toward the more positive aspects of this hallenging time. And there are many. This much to give us hope.

HOPE: INCREDIBLE SUPPORT

IS THERE ANY HOPE?
Absolutely. Following are a few things in which to take solace and a few terrific developments to fan the embers of your passionate hope.

INCREDIBLE SUPPORT FOR THE DELTA QUEEN
Corporate Events: Majestic America Line committed to host 27 events, one for every port of call during the Delta Queen’s 2008 season. These events provide an opportunity to thank the cities for the years of hospitality they have extended to Delta Queen cruise guests. The events also provide an opportunity to inform citizens about the Delta Queen’s struggle and encourage them to contact their representatives.

Onboard Awareness: Onboard talks and handouts inform cruise guests about the historical significance of the boat, its legislative struggles, and offers guests information about how to get involved.

Grass Roots Support: A volunteer group unified under the name Save the Delta Queen Campaign continues to promote awareness through events, media coverage, and Congressional lobbying. Many organizations and municipalities also have voiced their support:

USA Today, Nov. 1, 2007
“More than 100 cities and towns, mostly in Middle America, already have passed resolutions calling on Congress to extend the boat’s long-standing exemption to a 1966 U.S. Coast Guard fire safety rule.”

As an example, here is the recent proclamation we received from the City of St. Louis:

WHEREAS, the City of St. Louis is proud to join in paying tribute to the Delta Queen; and

WHEREAS, the Delta Queen is an American icon that has traveled the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers since 1927; and

WHEREAS, originally built in 1926, this world-famous riverboat entered service with Delta Queen Steamboat Co. in 1947; and

WHEREAS, without Congressional action, the Delta Queen – the last steam-powered stern-wheel riverboat offering overnight passenger service in the United States – will no longer be able to operate cruise voyages; and

WHEREAS, the City of St. Louis recognizes the storied tradition of the Delta Queen riverboat and extends best wishes for a successful 2008 season.

Now, therefore, I, Francis G. Slay, Mayor of the City of St. Louis, do hereby proclaim August 12, 2008, as:

“DELTA QUEEN DAY”
IN THE CITY OF ST. LOUIS

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused to be affixed the seal of the City of St. Louis, this 12th day of August, A.D. 2008.

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In the previous posts, I’ve written quite a bit about the Delta Queen’s Congressional struggles to be allowed to continue operation. To make matters worse, the Delta Queen also has been put up for sale.

THE DELTA QUEEN OFFERED FOR SALE

Congressman Steve Chabot’s April 24 defeat [see previous post] was quickly followed on April 29, 2008 by Majestic America Line’s announcement to offer for sale the Delta Queen (and all six other vessels in their fleet) and cease operation of those vessels by 2009.

WHAT COULD HAPPEN TO THE DELTA QUEEN?
Majestic America Line Press Release, August 1, 2007
“The company is continuing to evaluate the best way to preserve her legendary spirit and her esteemed place in American history for future generations.”

Joe Ueberroth

Joe Ueberroth

Los Angeles Times, August 9, 2007
“Joe Ueberroth, president and chief executive of Ambassadors International in Newport Beach, which bought the boat last year, said it may see service abroad or become a floating hotel and museum.”

From the May Ambassadors Earnings Conference Call
President and CEO, Joe Ueberroth, said: “There are a lot of interested parties — some who want to operate [the vessels] traditionally like we have, but there are some who look at them for other uses, and foreign buyers could offer them on [other] rivers. … We even see some interest … as floating hotels.”

LESSONS LEARNED BY MAJESTIC
Travel Weekly, May 12, 2008
Joe Ueberroth: “We have learned the hard way that our product is not about trumpeter swans [the company logo] or high thread counts…But instead it is about a great heritage, small American towns and its people, Mark Twain and that underlying seduction or pull to the river.”

In an interview after the earnings call, Ueberroth reiterated that his advice to future owner(s) would be to “understand the history of this product, listen to your customer and really embrace its tradition.”

Keep visiting back to this blog for updates on the sale of the Delta Queen and the other boats in the fleet.

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This post continues from our previous discussion of the Delta Queen’s Congressional struggle to be allowed to continue operation…

THE RECENT STRUGGLE

AND THEN…A NEW BILL WAS SUBMITTED

Steve Chabot

Steve Chabot

In October 2007, Ohio Congressman Steve Chabot introduced House Resolution 3852 to extend the Delta Queen’s exemption.

BLOCKED BY OBERSTAR

James Oberstar

James Oberstar

Congressman Chabot’s bill has been consistently blocked from moving through the House Transportation Committee by Committee Chairman James Oberstar (Democrat-Minnesota) who has complete and sole control of what bills will proceed through his committee to the be voted on by Congress. [Personal opinion warning: Way too much power for any one person!] Congressman Oberstar cites safety concerns despite the fact that he previously has voted for the boat’s exemption.

THE APRIL AMENDMENT ATTEMPT
In April 2008, Congressman Chabot attempted to attach the Delta Queen’s exemption to the Coast Guard appropriation bill in a manner that has been done on previous occasions. The House Rules Committee (which decides what amendments will be added to what bills) voted 9 to 4 against allowing the amendment. All votes against the amendment were cast by Democrats. It is one of the more tragic aspects of this battle that this issue has become partisan as Democrats have lined up behind powerful Congressman James Oberstar.

On April 24, 2008, Congressman Chabot’s Motion to Recommit (which allows the members of Congress to vote on whether an amendment can be added to a bill) failed by only 7 votes. SEVEN VOTES! And 28 members did not even bother to vote. Inexplicably, the representatives of many more river communities – who cherish the historical significance of the boat and the economic tourism boost it brings to their communities – also voted no.

To see how your representative voted, click the following link to view a report in an attached Microsoft Word file.

How Congress Voted

There is so much more to this struggle. Check back for more on the Delta Queen’s struggles in the next post. A comprehensive overview soon will be posted HERE.

Well, some interesting news has come out today that fits perfectly with my recent series of posts about the Congressional struggle to allow the Delta Queen to keep operating. Congressman Steve Chabot from Cincinnati continues to fight for the Delta Queen. He has invited Chairman James Oberstar to visit the Delta Queen and see for himself the array of safety systems in place. Here is Chabot’s press release:

Chabot Invites Chairman Oberstar to Personally View Safety Features of the Delta Queen
STEVE CHABOT NEWS
MEMBER OF CONGRESS
FIRST DISTRICT, OHIO

For Immediate Release

Date: August 22, 2008  
Contact: Todd Lindgren – (513) 684-2723

Chabot Invites Chairman Oberstar to Personally View Safety Features of the Delta Queen

CINCINNATI — Congressman Steve Chabot (R-OH) has formally invited House Transportation Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-MN) to view the safety features onboard the historic Delta Queen steamboat.  In a letter sent last week, Chabot invited Chairman Oberstar to tour the boat on August 26, or any other date the boat is scheduled to be in Cincinnati this year.  Chabot also offered to arrange a tour for Chairman Oberstar when the Delta Queen is closer to his Minnesota home.

        “I am hopeful that Chairman Oberstar will take the time to personally view the tremendous safety enhancements that have been made over the years to ensure that every cruise aboard the Delta Queen is safe,” Chabot stated.

Last year, Chabot introduced bipartisan legislation (H.R. 3852) to allow the Delta Queen to continue to operate as an overnight passenger vessel.  The legislation has been referred to the House Transportation Committee, which Chairman Oberstar leads.  The Delta Queen is currently operating under a congressional exemption that is set to expire on November 1, 2008.

The Delta Queen began operating as a sternwheel river steamboat in 1926 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989.  For the last 40 years, the Delta Queen has safely operated on the rivers of the U.S. under a congressional exemption due to the paddle wheeler’s wooden superstructure not meeting certain regulations specified under the 1966 Safety at Sea Act.  While Congress originally intended this law to apply to ocean-going vessels, the Delta Queen, which is never far from shore, was unexpectedly caught-up in these regulations. Recognizing the difference between boats operating on inland waterways and those operating at sea, Congress established the exemption in 1968 and has renewed it on nine separate occasions to allow the Delta Queen to continue overnight passenger cruises.

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Read Congressman Chabots remarks about the Delta Queen HERE.

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As we continue to look at the Delta Queen’s struggle to survive…

In my last post, I noted that Congressman and Committee Chairman James Oberstar’s stated objections to the Delta Queen’s continued operation focus on the boat’s fire safety. I presented in the last post the facts that dispel that concern. The boat’s owners and other media have presented the theory that Oberstar’s objections may not be based solely on safety, but may indeed involve issues related to a union dispute. Here are some reports to consider:

IF SAFETY IS NOT THE ISSUE, THEN WHAT IS?
From the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Monday, August 13, 2007
“The committee did not have an issue with the Delta Queen being a wooden superstructure,” says Jeff Urbanchuk, spokesman for Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Hollidaysburg. Mr. Shuster is on the transportation committee.
A union dispute is the primary issue, Mr. Urbanchuk says.
The Democrats oppose the waiver because current ownership did not accept the collective bargaining contract when it bought the historic asset…
“Nonsense” was the only comment from the Seafarers International Union spokesman, Jordan Biscardo.

Los Angeles Times, October 23, 2007
“The Seafarers International Union represented crews on the Delta Queen under a contract with its former owner, Delta Queen Steamboat Co., [Joe] Ueberroth said. That ended after Ambassadors International, which is nonunion, bought the vessel last year. As a result, he said, the union was lobbying against the waiver.”

Joe Ueberroth (Majestic America Line President) on the Jason Lewis radio talk show, Thursday, January 31, 2008 on Minneapolis FM 100.3 KTLK:
“In 2006, it’s interesting to know that the exemption to extend our operating permits did pass the House and at that time Oberstar did vote for the exemption…It wasn’t until the control of Congress and Oberstar became the chair of the committee that the tone changed dramatically…You’ve heard his statement that he says it’s due to safety, but I look at the facts. And I look at the facts that two things occurred from 2006 to 2007. One was a change in leadership in Congress. The second one was union opposition. In all the previous attempts, the unions never opposed this exemption. They did in 2007…It’s a question we’ve asked ourselves. Why would a union fight against American jobs? The one logical answer is that our company has been operating union-free and previous companies operated with unions.”

From the Cincinnati Enquirer, Aug 17, 2007
“Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, also opposes the exemption, mainly because the boat is not unionized.
He told Majestic that he would not support the exemption unless the Seafarers International Union gets behind it. Majestic spokeswoman Ann Marie Ricard said the company reached out to the union but didn’t get an indication that it would be supportive of the exemption.”

IF IT REALLY IS THE UNION ISSUE, WHY DON’T THE OWNERS JUST PUT THE UNION BACK ONBOARD IF IT COULD SAVE THE DELTA QUEEN?
New York Times, October 25, 2007
“Joseph McCarthy, general counsel for Ambassadors International, said the company had offered to let the union back on the Delta Queen in return for the union’s support for the exemption, but the union would not budge unless it was welcomed back onto all seven of Majestic’s boats.”

IN FAIRNESS TO THE UNION
On November 9, 2007, the Seafarer’s International Union posted a response to the situation on their website:
“First, it is ludicrous – and perhaps even slanderous – to suggest that the SIU or any other union either could or would guarantee congressional action on the proposed waiver. That accusation is flat-out false, contrary to what has appeared in print and on line. We indeed met with Majestic America Line to discuss the Delta Queen. However, our position simply was (and remains) that we make every effort to assist our contracted companies, though certainly not at the expense of safety. In this case, we believed we potentially – and we underscore potentially – could help present a persuasive argument concerning the waiver because the SIU has the only viable case for its continuation.”

But there is so much more to this struggle. Check back for more on the Delta Queen’s struggles in the next post. A comprehensive overview soon will be posted HERE.

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THE DELTA QUEEN SAFETY DEBATE

WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?
Cincinnati Enquirer, Aug 17, 2007
“The committee’s chairman, Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., opposes the exemption because he says the boat’s advanced age and wood construction present an unacceptable safety risk, according to spokeswoman Mary Kerr.

IS SAFETY REALLY THE ISSUE?
Majestic America Line and legislative supporters are working to educate Congressional leaders that concerns regarding the safety of the Delta Queen are unfounded due to the technology and staff training to provide effective prevention, detection, suppression, and evacuation methods. Most importantly, the boat is regularly inspected and certified for passenger operation by the United States Coast Guard. Here are some more specific safety details:
• Great Safety Record – The Delta Queen has safely operated for more than 80 years without a single loss of life or a serious fire incident. 
• Coast Guard Inspections – The United States Coast Guard (in charge of marine safety) inspects the Delta Queen quarterly (with frequent additional surprise inspections) and continues to issue the boat a Certificate of Inspection.
• Reduced Risk – Many portions of the vessel have been painted with intumescent (fire retardant) paint. Under Majestic America Line ownership and management, the amount of combustible material (“fire load”) has been reduced.
• Detection Systems – Two separate types of fire detection systems have been installed that will sense the presence of fire or smoke so that a response may be initiated immediately. 
• Suppression Systems – Two different types of fixed fire suppression systems have been installed to remotely extinguish a fire in either engineering or public hotel spaces. The installed sprinkler system is designed to extinguish a fire automatically without any manual human interface required and is in every stateroom.
• Watchmen hourly patrol every space of the boat throughout the night.
• Fire Crews – Trained fire crews are part of the onboard staff and are at the ready 24-hours a day.
• Emergency Drills – Passengers are drilled each cruise and the crew is drilled weekly.
• Easy Evacuation – In the event of emergency, almost every passenger room opens directly onto the outer deck. Interior rooms have an exit within about 25 feet. On deck are evacuation slides and inflatable emergency boats. The boat is never far from the banks of the river and can quickly and easily be pulled to shore.
• Passenger Notification – Current legislation requires that all prospective passengers are informed about the Delta Queen’s wooden superstructure and potential risks.
• Increasing Regulations and Training – Regulatory requirements for fire safety and firefighting training and drills for officers and crew have increased steadily. 
But there is so much more to this struggle. Check back for more on the Delta Queen’s struggles in the next post. A comprehensive overview soon will be posted HERE.

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A Brief Overview of the Delta Queen’s Struggle to Survive

LEGISLATIVE STRUGGLES
In 1966 as Congress passed a law that outlawed vessels with a wooden superstructure from carrying more than 50 overnight passengers. The law was originally intended for ocean-going cruise ships, but the Delta Queen – never far from the river banks – was ensnared in the regulation. Company official petitioned Congress and ultimately were granted an exemption from the regulation which has been periodically renewed for the past 42 years, often attached as an amendment to other bills. The current exemption expires November 1, 2008 and without Congressional renewal, the boat will be forced out of service.

THE EXEMPTION RENEWAL DISAPPEARS
From the Cincinnati Enquirer, Aug 17, 2007
“Last year, the House passed its Coast Guard bill with the exemption for the Delta Queen included, but the bill failed to pass the Senate, so lawmakers had to start over on the legislation this year.”

From the Kentucky Post, August 4, 2007
“Todd Lindgren, communications manager for U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, R-1st District, said the waiver for the Delta Queen had been attached to a Coast Guard re-authorization bill when the proposed legislation was sent to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. But when the bill emerged from the committee, the waiver for the boat had been deleted. Lindgren said the full House has not yet acted on the bill.”

MAJESTIC AMERICA LINE ANNOUNCED DELTA QUEEN’S RETIREMENT
Majestic America Line press release, August 1, 2007
“Majestic America Line…announced today that despite tremendous efforts by the company, many esteemed partners and thousands of previous guests, the U.S. Congress has decided that the Delta Queen should not continue operating on America’s rivers beyond 2008.”
Joe Ueberroth, President and CEO, Ambassadors International, which owns and operates Majestic America Line said in the statement, “We are incredibly disappointed by this decision, but we are extremely grateful to those who worked tirelessly on behalf of the Delta Queen to preserve her place on the Mississippi River.”

WHY GIVE UP SO SOON?
In 1970, the Delta Queen’s exemption was not passed by Congress until almost two months after the deadline had passed and the boat had been forced out of service. Many Delta Queen fans were shocked at the owners resignation a full 15 months before the deadline. Even legislative representatives were amazed:

Kentucky Post, August 4, 2007
[Todd Lindgren is the communications manager for U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot.]
“It’s still early in the process. It seems like it’s kind of premature,” Lindgren said of Majestic America’s announcement that it has, in effect, given up on its effort to secure the waiver.

But there is so much more to this struggle. Check back for more on the Delta Queen’s struggles in the next post. A comprehensive overview soon will be posted HERE.

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