A Brief Overview of how and why the Delta Queen — the last U.S. overnight, steam-powered sternwheeler — was forced to retire.

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 officials 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.

SO CLOSE TO AN EXEMPTION RENEWAL
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.”

THE EXEMPTION RENEWAL DISAPPEARS
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.”

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.

WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?
Cincinnati Enquirer, Aug 17, 2007
“The [House Transportation] 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. The boat is regularly inspected and certified for passenger operation by the United States Coast Guard. For more specific details about the Delta Queen’s safety, CLICK HERE.

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 UNION ISSUE
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.”

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.”

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 JAMES 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 be voted on by Congress. Congressman Oberstar cites safety concerns despite the fact that he previously has voted for the boat’s exemption.

JAMES OBERSTAR PREVIOUSLY VOTED FOR THE DELTA QUEEN EXEMPTION
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.

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. Many of these may have voted against the amendment to avoid angering powerful Committee Chairman James Oberstar, or out of simply believing Oberstar’s misinformation about the Delta Queen’s safety concerns. To find out how your representative voted, CLICK HERE.

TO MAKE MATTERS WORSE – DELTA QUEEN FOR SALE
Congressman’s Chabot’s April 24 defeat 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 the end of 2008.

WHAT COULD HAPPEN TO THE DELTA QUEEN?

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.”

SURELY HE DIDN’T ACTUALLY MEAN THEY MIGHT SELL THE DELTA QUEEN OVERSEAS!?
Apparently he did. During the May 2008 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 AMERICA LINE
Travel Weekly, May 12, 2008
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.”

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.”

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.”

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, visitor’s centers, municipalities, and Congressional representatives across America.

We need a big voice. We need a talk-show host like Oprah, Ellen Degeneres. Even as polarizing as he can be, Rush Limbaugh right now might get the issue some attention in an opportunity to attack Democrat James Oberstar. 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 on 1979 and is often 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 may include up to the additional drama of Union influence.

LATE BREAKING NEWS
Ohio Senator George Voinovich has committed to introduce legislation to continue the Delta Queen’s exemption in the Senate on Tuesday, September 16.

We all look forward to watching this American drama unfold.

Will Sen. Voinovich develop a strategy and garner enough support to push the exemption through?

Will the Delta Queen be purchased by new owners committed to saving her and continuing her cruise operation?

Will individual Americans collectively voice their concern and support to lawmakers and corporate owners in such a chorus that history can be changes?

Stay tuned…

YOU CAN HELP!
To find out more about what you can do to help Save the Delta Queen, CLICK HERE.

Thank you for your interest and support in Saving the Delta Queen.

–END–

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8 Responses to “DQ’s Forced Retirement”


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