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Rep. Oberstar’s manipulatory tricks in his Delta Queen speech on the House of Representatives

Apr 27, 2008

It’s a shame that the discussion about the future of the Delta Queen became a partisan issue last week in the House of Representatives. We’re trying to change this back to a non-partisan discussion by showing where Rep. Oberstar used manipulatory tricks to get almost all of his fellow Democrat representatives to vote with him without looking at the facts and without using their brains before they voted.

Rep. Oberstar’s speech text is in green, while our comments are in black.

Just get your own picture of the situation. I’m trying to only present the facts and hold back with my personal opinion.

Mr. Speaker, I enormously respect the distinguished and amiable gentleman from Ohio, the weight-lifting champ of the House gym. When he walks on the floor, the weights quiver and shake in awe of his appearance.

He has been an advocate for the Delta Queen even back to last fall when I was in the Bethesda Naval Hospital for an operation to correct a long-standing injury to my neck. He sent a sheet cake with the Delta Queen emblazoned upon it to remind me of his diligence and of his enthusiasm for the Delta Queen. I could only eat one slice of it, but I assured him that the staff at the hospital, who had no idea what the Delta Queen was all about, appreciated this sheet cake from the very distinguished and caring gentleman from the State of Ohio.

But labor has nothing to do with this issue. I haven’t heard from a single person in any labor union about this matter.

What Rep. Oberstar doesn’t explain is why he totally changed his mind since just last year when he voted in favor of the Delta Queen exemption. And he has never explained how it comes that Majestic America Line is claiming the Union issue being the only reason for his opposition (see: http://www.secinfo.com/d14D5a.u5dFm.8.htm, search on page for "Congressman Oberstar").

The Delta Queen was built in 1926 and carried 174 passengers, 88 state rooms. It has extensive wood superstructure. It has extensive wood interior and furniture, and for those reasons, the Coast Guard will not certify this vessel.

Simply not true. The Coast Guard has certified the Delta Queen numerous times in the past and just weeks ago. Citing a DQ crew member: "We passed our annual Coast Guard Inspection on Tuesday [= April 15, 2008] and received our new COI. The inspector was very impressed with the crew during the Fire and Abandon Ship drills."

Opposition is clear. The combustible construction of the vessel presents an unacceptable fire risk that cannot be mitigated by the addition of fire-suppression measures, says the Coast Guard. As such, the Coast Guard’s position remains unchanged. The Delta Queen should be prohibited from operating with overnight passengers. Since May 28, 1936, the United States has required that passenger vessels be constructed essentially of fire retardant material. In the interest of maritime safety, the Coast Guard, continuing their quote, has consistently opposed legislation to prolong the service of the Delta Queen. A vessel constructed of wood operating in the overnight passenger trade presents an unacceptable fire risk to its passengers and crew. It goes on at great length.

We’ve seen such a letter from a high-ranking Coast Guard officer, true. But nevertheless the Coast Guard has always issued certificates of inspection for the Delta Queen testifying her safety and compliance with the regulations while the Coast Guard could easily have refused the certificate in case the Delta Queen was not safe.

The Delta Queen can operate in daytime but not at night.

In the operation of the trade on the Mississippi River, the worst disaster in history occurred, fire onboard a paddle wheeler. Yes, in the 19th century, but 1,700 people died 100 yards from shore.

Mr. Oberstar obviously is referring to the Sultana disaster of 1865 (see details: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~genepool/sultana.htm). That fire was caused by a boiler explosion, something absolutely untinkable as of today. At that time due to a lack of safety standards steamboats had an average lifetime of 3-5 years and boiler explosions were relatively common. The Delta Queen now is 82 years old and never had any major incidents in her whole lifetime. The Sultana could carry 376 persons, including crew, about double than the Delta Queen today. But the ruthless captain of the Sultana overloaded the boat with the incredible number of more than 1,700 passengers, mainly Civil War soldiers on their way back home.
If it makes any sense to compare the Sultana with the Delta Queen, then we also have to compare the Titanic with modern cruise ships and stop (at least) all Alaska cruises immediately.

On March 22 of this year, of this year, the Delta Queen had a fire in the generating room requiring the use of their fixed C02 extinguishing system. Fortunately, no one was injured. The generator shorted, caused flames to shoot out the generator end.

Isn’t that just an example how safe the Delta Queen in fact is and how well her safety appliances are working? The fire detection and extinguishing systems acted exactly as designed and did their job flawlessly. By the way: According to our sources, the fire was caused by a generator overspeed, not a short. And the fire was contained to the generator space, which is basically a metal room within the boiler room. No wood even close to it.

Earlier this month, the Queen of the West, this April, a similar paddle wheel operated by the very same company that owns and operates the Delta Queen had a fire in the engine room, required evacuation of 177 passengers and crew. Three crew members were treated for smoke inhalation.


What does the Queen of the West have to do with the Delta Queen? She is an all-steel boat with a hydraulic-driven paddlewheel; no wooden superstructure, no steam.


Last year, in May, the Empress of the North, another excursion vessel operated by the same company owning the Delta Queen, ran aground in southeast Alaska, evacuating over 200 passengers and crew; fourth grounding of that vessel in less than 4 years.

Again, what does this have to do with the Delta Queen? And very important: The Queen of the West as well as the Empress of the North are of course Coast Guard certified vessels, the navigational crew of both boats of course are holding an appropriate license issued by the Coast Guard.

Now I can understand those who live along the Mississippi River, which starts nearly in my district all the way down to the Gulf, but friends, we would never stand for limiting safety on a 747 aircraft.

a) what does a 747 airplane have to do with a steamboat? b) nobody is talking about limiting the safety on the Delta Queen. The Delta Queen is safer than she’s ever been and absolutely up to modern standards and beyond.

And over a decade ago, a foreign airline was trying to remove over-wing exits from a 747.

Trying to remove over-wing exits in fact reduces safety on a 747. Renewing the Delta Queen’s exemption does not reduce safety but maintains the level of safety she had over the last at least 40 years since she is running under these exemptions from a law that was never made for riverboats but for sea-going passenger vessels. Remember: Great Lakes ships are exempt from this law by default; riverboats had just been forgotten about to exempt by default in that law.

Congressman Bill Clinger, Pennsylvania’s ranking Republican on the Committee on Aviation with me, we stopped them from doing that. We stopped the FAA from allowing that risk to safety. We should stop this risk to safety here. Fire at night is terrifying. Oppose the amendment.

(end of Rep. Oberstar’s speech)

8 Comments »

8 Responses to “Rep. Oberstar’s manipulatory tricks in his Delta Queen speech on the House of Representatives”

  1. Kent Marple Says:

    I am appalled that our House of Representatives has become so divided that a simple exemption of a Historic Landmark can become a political football. Have you all forgotten that you are there for the betterment of the UNITED States of America. Mr. Oberstar, the bridge over the Mississippi River to your state that fell into the river, killed more people than have ever been hurt on the Delta Queen in it’s 80 year history. I think maybe your committee should pay more attention to bridges and their deplorable condition. Should we stop building bridges? Of course not. Why did you vote for the exemption for the Delta Queen last year? Oops, was it a union vessel at that time? Please do not lay the blame on the Coast Guard for your information about the worthyness of the Delta Queen, they only enforce your laws. You either did not seek out the facts or you intentionaly ignored them when concerning the safety of the Delta Queen. I am starting to see why only about 25% of Americans vote. The other 75% percent are disgusted with the nonsense that goes on in Washington D.C.

  2. admin Says:

    I admin, I did some manipulation, too ;-) Rep. Oberstar actually has explained earlier why he voted for the DQ’s exemption last year while opposing it heavily this time. His explanation was he had no choice because he would have had to vote against the whole Coast Guard Reauthorization Bill then.

    But my question still stands: If it’s so important to stop the Delta Queen because she’s so extremely dangerous – why taking this risk in account when tied to the Coast Guard bill?

    Is the budget for the Coast Guard more important than “hundreds of lifes lost in a fire on the Delta Queen by night”?

    No matter what Rep. Oberstar says: This is about politics, not about caring for passenger’s safety.

  3. ALR Says:

    As with ALL politicians I say follow he money – why is Oberstar so dead set against re-cert? Is it possible he has monies invested in some other tour boat operations? I smell a skunk (or worse) here.

  4. Robert Swinney Says:

    Kent Marple about said it all. Excerpt: “I am apalled that our House of Representatives has become so divided that a simple exemption of a Historic landmark can become a political football. Have you all forgotten you are here for the betterment of the UNITED States of America. Mr. Oberstar, the bridge over the Mississippi River to your state that fell into the river, killed more people than have ever been hurt on the Delta Queen in its 80 year history. . . . I think maybe your committee should pay more attention to bridges and their deplorable condition. Should we stop building bridges? Of course not. Why did you vote for the exemption for the Delta Queen last year? Ooops, was it a union vessel at that time? . . . . You either did not seek out the facts or you intentionally ignored them when concerning the safety of the Delta Queen.. . .”

  5. Robin Webster Says:

    Shame, shame, shame on Rep. James Oberstar for his misleading and misinformed remarks on the Delta Queen! And further shame upon him for not recognizing he is answerable to the people, all the people, not just those who put him in office. Don’t waste time going to his web site to try to tell him how you feel about his remarks. A screening program states he will only accept comments from his constituents in the 8th Congressional District of Minnesota. Why? Especially when it is obvious that his unfortunate opportunity to open his mouth and spew misinformation will affect people across the U.S. What a pity when an elected official is afraid to take the heat for his own actions. Rep. Oberstar twists the facts and revises history to suit his own purposes. It is fitting that history will not remember him fondly when it comes to the fate of the Delta Queen.

  6. Rep. Oberstar deleting negative comments on YouTube - Message Boards Says:

    […] manipulative manner of this speech and his untrue statements at save-the-delta-queen.org before (Rep. Oberstar?s manipulatory tricks in his Delta Queen speech …), so there is no need to repeat myself here regarding the unbelievable impertinence of this speech. […]

  7. Mike Says:

    I’m appalled that Rep. Oberstar is from my home state.

  8. Robert Swinney Says:

    Sorry Mike, but you’ve been duped by the title “Representative”, as applied to the people of Minnesota. As has been pointed out numerous times in this forum, Rep. Oberstar’s allegiance is grossly misapplied to special interests in his state, not to the interests of its citizens.