The Delta Grassroots Caucus (DGC) is a broad coalition of grassroots leaders in the eight-state Delta region. DGC is also a founding partner of the Economic Equality Caucus,
which advocates for economic equality across the USA.

Delta Group Buys Delta Queen, Plans to Return Historic Boat to Traveling the Rivers

Posted on February 20, 2015 at 04:07 PM

The Delta Grassroots Caucus is greatly encouraged at prospects for passing legislation permitting the historic steamboat, the Delta Queen, to resume traveling on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers and their tributaries, due to two major forces for progress:

Strong support from both parties in Congress for this legislation, and

The purchase of the boat by the Delta Queen Steamboat Company (DQSC) on Feb. 18. The DQSC reportedly plans to complete renovations and upgrades needed to get the boat ready to travel again as it did for decades in its earlier history.

DQSC is led by Cornel Martin of New Orleans, and his group includes steamboat experts, engineers and long-time supporter of the historic riverboat that plied the waters of the Mississippi and her tributaries for decades. The new owners plan to make extensive renovations and repairs to the boat, because it has been sitting docked at Chattanooga, Tennessee for six years and like any machinery that has not been in use for a long period, it will require upgrades to get her in shape to travel again.

DQSC, Inc. had been trying to buy the boat for quite some time, and the purchase was completed on Feb. 18, 2015, from the Xanterra corporation. Xanterra is an international cruise ship corporation and did not have any plans to return the riverboat to traveling on America’s inland waterways, so the transfer of ownership to the Delta-based DQSC removed a major obstacle to the boat resuming its travels.

The Delta Queen has a long and complex history that is explained and analyzed in this newsletter.

Delta Heritage tourism has great potential for the region’s economic development: We will discuss the Save the Delta Queen campaign at our Delta Grassroots Caucus conference in Little Rock, Arkansas on May 26-27, 2015, along with a broad range of other Delta economic initiatives.

The Tuesday, May 26 session is at the Arkansas State Capitol from 4 p.m. to 7:45 p.m.

The Wednesday, May 27 session is at the Great Hall of the Clinton Library from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

REGISTRATION for May 26-27, 2015 Delta conference:

You register by sending in the registration fees.

Registration is $125 each for those who have not paid their annual membership dues for the calendar year 2015, or $100 for those who have paid their dues.

Please make out the registration fees to “Delta Caucus” and mail to:

Delta Caucus

5030 Purslane Place

Waldorf, MD 20601

For more information contact Lee Powell, Executive Director, Delta Grassroots Caucus, (202) 360-6347 or

Legislation is needed to allow the DQ to travel on the rivers once again:

The US House of Representatives passed legislation in the form of an exemption from the Safety of Life at Sea Act (SOLAS) by a wide margin in 2013, recognizing that the boat has an exemplary safety record. The SOLAS Act was intended to over oceangoing vessels, not a riverboat like the Delta Queen that is never more than minutes from land, as the House recognized in passing the bill.

The bill was unfortunately stuck in the Senate committee for most of 2014, but the boat’s supporters finally succeeded in getting it out of committee last August. But it did not get out of the Senate commerce committee until near the end of the session last year.

There was not time to get the bill to a vote on the Senate floor, so the only remaining legislative vehicle was the difficult strategy of a unanimous consent request, which of course can be blocked by only a couple or even one Senator-and indeed that is what happened.

We learned that the unanimous consent was blocked by a US Senator who was from a state that is not located in the Delta region or the Ohio River region, but a competing steamboat company has a plant in his state. The other steamboat company was concerned that the Delta Queen would be a competitor, although we believe that there is plenty of room for several more steamboats on the Mississippi, with the increasing popularity of river cruises and the economy making a solid recovery.

Additional layers of safety requirements added to the Senate version of the bill: In getting the bill out of committee, supporters of the legislation were asked if they had objections to adding a requirement that each year, 10% of the parts of the boat that are made of wood could be altered by adding non-combustible materials.

While this was not necessary given the boat’s safety record, on the other hand it did no harm and you can never have too much safety precautions, so the supporters were and are fine with this added requirement. This amendment utterly demolishes any accusation that the boat has any safety concerns.

Please understand one fundamental point: the Delta Queen has a superb safety record, and this issue has absolutely nothing to do with any legitimate concern about safety. The source of the utterly false allegation that the boat is a “terrible fire hazard” is the lobbyist for a competing steamboat company who sees the Delta Queen will be a business competitor if it resumes traveling on the Mississippi.

If the lobbyist wants to oppose the bill with facts, he is welcome to do so. But to spew falsehoods about a perfectly safe boat as part of a lobbying effort epitomizes Washington, DC at its worst. A historic icon should not be sacrificed to a narrow-minded lobbying effort with a vested business interest.

The Mississippi used to have more steamboats traveling on it before the recession, and the economy can support several more steamboats-not just the Delta Queen, but the American Queen and several more. The competitor should refrain from making false allegations and we should let both boats compete, and the free enterprise system and the customers in the market will decide which one is better.

This year Congressional supporters of the Delta Queen informed us that similar legislation will be introduced this year-probably within the next several weeks. So we plan to move it through quickly enough so that it does not run out of time, which is essentially what happened last year.

We will keep you posted as to when the bill is introduced: please remind your Congressional offices that we must not let this get lost in the shuffle again this year.

We have often encountered the problem that we will ask Senate offices if they support the legislation, and all of them from our eight states and indeed almost all across the country are in favor of the bill. But if you ask if they are doing anything to bring the bill to a vote, the answer was that they were busy with larger-scale initiatives and they were not able to focus on it yet. If that lack of focus continues the bill will die and we will lose a historic icon.

Yes, it is true that this is an issue about a national historic treasure, but it is not a large-scale issue. But this is a meritorious, non-controversial issue, and it is no excuse to not bother with it just because it is not on a large scale.


The Delta Queen has an exemplary safety record, having been safely operated for no less than 80 years when it used to travel America’s inland waterways. The legislation is supported by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Seafarers International Union, the American Maritime Officers, and many other distinguished organizations, and has been designated as a National Historic Landmark.

The Safety of Life at Seas law was intended to be applied to oceangoing cruise vessels, not a riverboat like the Delta Queen that is never more than minutes from land and does not present the safety challenges that vessels plying the high seas must confront.

The boat has a steel hull, and in its recent history the managers removed over 50 tons of wood from the upper parts of the boat and replaced it with steel and other non-combustible materials. There is some wood in the upper parts of the boat, but there are state of the art sprinkler systems installed and many other safety precautions.

DQSC plans even more upgrades and improvements, including buying new boilers and many other renovations.

The US Coast Guard has to inspect large passenger vessels including the Delta Queen before it is allowed to travel, and the Coast Guard passed the Delta Queen year after year in its earlier history. The bottom line is that it is simply not possible for the Delta Queen to be a safety hazard, because the Coast Guard will not permit it to travel unless it passes rigorous safety inspections.

Three key benefits of the Delta Queen to remember when discussing this with your Congressional offices:

1) The Delta Queen is a national historic icon that is supported by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and is the last of the steamboats closely patterned after the Mark Twain-style era of riverboats. This promotes educational tourism about the history, culture and natural beauty of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.

2) The boat has an exemplary safety record, having a steel hull, elaborate sprinkler systems and other safety precautions, was operated safely for 80 years on America’s waterways, and amended Senate language adds even additional layers of safety precautions to what was already one of the safest boats on America’s inland waterways. DQSC plans an additional series of renovations and upgrades.

3) The boat has a small but still real economic benefit in creating about 200 jobs directly if she starts traveling again, plus generating tourist dollars in the many communities where she stops. There is plenty of room for a number of steamboats traveling these huge regions, and before the recession there were several more steamboats traveling the inland waterways than there are today With the economy coming back we can support several riverboats.

The boat used to make stops from New Orleans to Natchez to Helena-West Helena to Memphis, northward to Cape Girardeau, St. Louis and beyond, on the Ohio River from Paducah, Kentucky to Cincinnati to West Virginia, as well as the Cumberland, Tennessee and Arkansas rivers.

Feel free to discuss this upcoming legislation with your Congressional offices.

Below is a timeline of the Delta Queen:

Delta Queen timeline

  • 1924:Construction begins on Delta Queen in Dumbarton, Scotland

  • May 1927: Delta Queen and sister ship Delta King christened

  • June 1927: Both boats begin service between Sacramento and the San Joaquin River Delta

  • October 1940: Delta Queen begins service for the Navy in a variety of roles

  • June 1945: Delta Queen takes newly created United Nations delegates on tour of New York City

  • December 1947: Delta Queen bought by Cincinnati businessman for use on the Mississippi River System

  • 1966: Safety of the Sea law, designed to forbid oceangoing vessels with wooden hulls from carrying overnight passengers, inadvertently affects the Delta Queen due to sloppy drafting of the statutory language. Understanding that the law was not meant to apply to riverboats that are never more than a few minutes from land, Congress passed exemptions for the Delta Queen for the next 40 years.

  • 1970: National Register of Historic Places adds Delta Queen

  • 1976: Delta Queen bought by Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of New York

*Late 1970s-Carter administration: President Jimmy Carter and his family took a lengthy cruise for over a week on the Delta Queen. Of course, the United States security apparatus at all levels certified that the boat was perfectly safe, in allowing the President and First Family to take a lengthy overnight cruise on the boat.

  • 1986: Delta Queen begins sailing out of New Orleans

  • 1989: Delta Queen designated National Historic Landmark

  • 2004: Delta Queen inducted into National Maritime Hall of Fame

  • 2006: Majestic America buys Delta Queen, decides not to renew contract with Seafarers Union, which had close ties to then-Chairman of the House transportation committee, the late Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minnesota). Rep. Oberstar had previously supported the exemption, but he completely reversed his position after the Seafarers Union vocally complained about having been kicked off the boat.

  • 2007: Exemption to Safety of the Sea Law not renewed, with Chairman Oberstar leading the opposition to the exemption.

  • 2008: Delta Queen completes last voyage, docks in Chattanooga for use as a hotel and bar

  • 2013: The US House passes Delta Queen bill by wide margin

  • February 2014: An ice storm damages the Delta Queen, and the boat stops taking visitors. Volunteers do maintenance work on the boat to try to prevent its deterioration.

  • March 2014: Delta Queen’s lease with city set to expire but is granted extension

  • June 2014: A group of investors led by businessman Cornel Martin makes deal to buy boat, return it to traveling America’s inland waterways.

  • December 2014: Two Senate Democrats block a 15-year exemption to Safety of the Sea law that previously sailed through the U.S. House

  • February, 2015: The Delta Queen Steamboat Company, Inc. purchases the Delta Queen from Xanterra corporation.