Senate votes this week are due to help determine whether the 91-year-old wooden steamboat Delta Queen can be resurrected as an overnight river cruise ship, despite the fact that the Department of Homeland Security calls the prospect “unacceptable fire risk."
A provision buried deep in the recently modified version of Senate’s Coast Guard (USCG) authorization bill would exempt Delta Queen paddle-wheeler from federal law and Coast Guard regulations requiring vessels with overnight accommodations for 50 or more passengers to be made of fireproof materials. The owner of the boat envisions the ship as a Mississippi River vessel for up to 174 guests.
On Tuesday, November 13, Senate’s first vote of the lame duck session is on whether to invoke cloture and this way end debate on the modified USCG authorization measure. In case cloture is invoked, the final passage vote in the Senate would be on Wednesday.
The House would have to pass it to become law, but some senior House members are concerned about the safety implications of Delta Queen provision. It is not yet clear if House leaders would allow representatives to amend the measure whenever they take it up.
The inclusion of safety exemption for Delta Queen in a Coast Guard bill may force some USCG proponents who are concerned about ship safety into a take-it-or-leave-it position.
Now the basic question before the Congress in the matter of Delta Queen is whether the vessel can become an overnight cruise ship, and not whether it should be preserved. Sistership Delta King is currently a pierside hotel moored in Sacramento CA.
In 1966, US law was changed to require fireproofing of boats with large berthing capacity following 1965 nighttime fire that engulfed SS Yarmouth Castle wooden steamship in the Caribbean. The blaze killed 90 people.
However, Delta Queen received a number of exemptions from the safety law during the past half-century.