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The “General Slocum” could still run today, without exemption!

Nov 22, 2007

Rep. James Oberstar has commented an articles by Katherine Kersten in the Minneapolis St. Paul Star Tribune, "Could Oberstar sink the majestic Delta Queen?". He compares the 1904 steam sidewheel excursion boat GENERAL SLOCUM with the Delta Queen today. There is not much to add to this weird idea of comparing these two boats (see Wikipedia for details about the General Slocum disaster in 1904). Just compare it with the safety features of the Delta Queen today …

But there is one fact I’d like to point out as it makes Rep. Oberstar’s comparison even more weird.

The General Slocum won’t be effected at all by the Safety at Sea Law or SOLAS. The Congress won’t be able to stop the Slocum by refusing an exemption even today. That is because she is was not an overnight passenger vessel but just an excursion boat. SOLAS only effects overnight passenger vessels with 50 or more passengers.

Looking closer on the Safety at Sea Law it show how thoughtless Congress has been when making the Safety at Sea Law in 1966. The law effects overnight passenger vessels with 50 or more passengers but it’s explicitly exempting vessels on the Great Lakes. They forgot about exempting boats on the US rivers because there was only one little boat (the Delta Queen) around at this time and they just overlooked her.

Then of course it doesn’t make sense to target such a law only to boats with 50 or more passengers. Is there some significant difference whether 49 or 51 people effected by any kind of disaster? And why applying it only to overnight vessels? Many of the most tragic disasters on steamboats in the (not so good) old times happened to day excursion boats. Why? Because they were much more loosely inspected and often cases of bribary, assuming that the risk on these boats is lower. Overnight passenger vessels rely on their good reputation and on repeat passengers. They can’t afford to be unsafe. This effects their business much more than on a day excursion vessel where tourists do come just once. overnight passenger vessel business is a long-term business and hence safety is much more important to the operators of the boats.

Fact is that the Gen. Slocum would be allowed to operate still today while the Delta Queen might not if the exemption will not be issued.

On the other hand, of course the Slocum won’t operate anyway because she won’t pass Coast Guard inspections. And that’s the other thing with the Delta Queen: She has to pass Coast Guard inspections, anyway, of course. If the Coast Guard finds that she is not safe regardless of an exemption from the Congress they can still refuse the inspection certificate anyway. But then it’s a fair, technical decision and not a political game like it is now when discussing the exemption.

Literally the Safety at Sea Law doesn’t say anything about boats else than that the Coast Guard must not give a certificate of inspection to any boat that doesn’t fulfill the law’s requirements. It does not say the Guast Guard has to give a certificate to any other boat. It’s still the Coast Guard’s decision whether they clear a boat or not. The big difference is that this Coast Guard’s decision can be questioned in court instead of having an obscure political decision for even more obscure reasons.

Congress, Senators and Representatives: Issue an exemption for the Delta Queen and let the Coast Guard do the job as they do on any other vessel.


6 Responses to “The “General Slocum” could still run today, without exemption!”

  1. Capt. H.C.Gober Says:


    I an retired but was in the employ of Strecfuss Steamers, Gateway Steamers and did Yacht delivery over most of the Western Rivers as well as the Florida inland waters.

    I have known captains of the Delta Queen and some crew members. Their reputation is above board in all matters of safety.Besides,they are never more than a very few minutes of the beach, in case the need should arise.

    Please let her continue to cruise

  2. Cynthia Handel Says:

    I suspect that piracy is still illegal on the United States Rivers. Well, isn’t that exactly what Rep. Oberstar is doing? He’s overtaking the Delta Queen and holding her hostage, and for what?…Political gain? It certainly can’t be for safety, because he’s ignoring all the legitimate arguments from passengers, crew and Captains who know much more about this historic vessel than he will ever know.

    Mr. Oberstar, please listen to reason and release the Delta Queen by allowing the SOLAS exemption, so she can continue to run; serving passengers and the millions in the small towns she visits throughout her travels.

  3. Klaus F. Schmidt Says:

    Mr. Oberstar:
    Don’t let this National Landmark, this American icon of our Western rivers die a premature death! I have traveled on this wonderful boat two dozen time (HAVE YOU??), and I never felt unsafe. Your comparing the Delta Queen to the General Slocum is simply ridiculous. Klaus Schmidt

  4. Jamalyn Campbell Says:

    How dare Mr. Oberstar dictate to me where I can spend my vacations!

  5. Bela K. Berty Says:

    If Senator Oberstar and the US Congress are truly concerned with the safety of Americans, shouldn’t they spend more time on the solution to the thousands of people killed on America’s highways in automobile collisions and to the thousands killed in house fires as opposed to spending time on NOBODY killed by neither collision nor by fire in the 81 years of this steamboat?

  6. Is the Delta Queen a public and political issue? Says:

    […] concerns while comparing the Delta Queen with Boing 747 airplanes and a 1904 excursion boat (the General Slucum, which without needing an exemption could still run today, by the way). His comments are […]