House passes bill to save Delta Queen steamboat

CINCINNATI – The House approved a bill Wednesday night that would allow the beloved Delta Queen steamboat to resume overnight passenger operations, Congressman Steve Chabot said on Twitter.

Earlier Wednesday, Chabot proposed the bill to the House to save the 60-year-old paddle-wheeled steamboat.

The first step was achieved in July when the House Transportation Committee passed the bill. 

Not that the bill has passed, it needs to go through the Senate. If successful there, it will be signed by President Barack Obama.

Chabot said he feels confident, as then-Senator Obama co-sponsored the exemption in 2008.

Chabot’s legislation, H.R. 1961, would establish a 15-year exemption from federal law for the Delta Queen.

“I introduced legislation in the House to reinstate the necessary exemption to make this all possible,” said Chabot. “The Delta Queen should not have lost her federal exemption in 2008.”

The steamboat spent 37 of her years in Cincinnati. Many view the steamer as a hometown treasure.

Former Captain of The Delta Queen, Michael Williams, has been volunteering his time on board to help “preserve this unique piece of Americana.”

“We’ve always carried ‘Homeport of Cincinnati’ on the back of the ship," Williams said. "No where does a city have the steamboat in their hearts like Cincinnati.”

A website, “Save The Delta Queen ,” is a private initiative to save the steamboat, and has found much positive outreach.

Part of the hardship to save the ship has stemmed from questions in her safety. In 2007, the steel hull was deemed a fire hazard, and just last June,  the ship caught fire.

“[I] feel strongly that we must all do whatever we can to help save the Delta Queen,” said Bettie Russo, a supporter of the Delta Queen. “I put my life on the line with complete trust in her safety. It is an honor to look upon her Majesty on the river. It is a profoundly moving, patriotic moment when I step upon her decks.”

While safety concerns have been expressed, Captain Williams said a majority of the restrictions are in place for ocean-going ships, like the Costa Concordia or Carnival ships that have experienced problems. The Delta is a riverfront, always within shore and able to get people off safely if there was a problem.

A new home has not been found yet, but many are wishing the national treasure would return to Cincinnati. Williams says, “I can sincerely say that there’s no where else we’d like to have her. There is a tremendous connection and support in Cincinnati.”

History:

  • Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Act was passed in 1966 as a law that banned wooden ships from carrying 50 or more overnight passengers at sea. SOLAS was intended for ocean-going ships, but The Delta Queen became subject to the rule after the Coast Guard expanded the law to include inland ships as well.
  • From 1968 to 2008, The Delta Queen received nine exemptions and continued to travel on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers until it was moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee where it was docked and used as a hotel. In spring, Chattanooga Mayor Adam Burke made the decision to let the ship go.
  • In May, City Council member, P.G. Sittenfeld met with the steamboat’s investors to “discuss the possibility of bringing her home to Cincinnati,” but it would it would cost Cincinnati $7 million to bring her home. No word on a deal has been made.
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