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Why the Delta Queen is safe to run as a cruise ship …

Sep 25, 2013

As the decision about the future of the Delta Queen comes closer, the same ignorant and misleading arguments about the Delta Queen’s safety are being raised by her opponents again that had been part of he discussion for years now. We won’t repeat all this so-called facts and half-cooked arguments here in detail but will give some details everyone should know about the Delta Queen before questioning her safety. (thanks, Phillip, for compiling all this important information!)

Fire prevention: Recent fires on cruise ships like the Carnival Triumph, Carnival Splendor and the Grandeur of the Seas are being used to demonstrate how dangerous a fire can get on cruise ships. But: These fires did not result in any loss of life, and occured on foreign flag vessels operating in international waters, where crew training and qualification are not under the scrutiny of the USCG. The real imposition to the passengers was the amount of time it took these vessels to return to the nearest port due to their extreme distance from any suitable port, or land at all for that matter. The Delta Queen, as any other domestic river vessel is manned by US Citizens under the full scrutiny of the USCG for training, vessel manning and safety compliance including fire detection and suppression systems.

Information and documentation: The Delta Queen’s opponents say that H.R. 1961 would reinstate “an ill-advised statutory exemption from the requirement that all passenger vessels carrying over 50 passengers on overnight excursions be constructed with fire retardant materials for an aged, paddlewheel steamship and that the list of factors about this vessel for which we know little or nothing …” In fact, there is actually quite a lot of information known about the Delta Queen as the vessel has been inspected by the USCG on a quarterly basis while it was in service.

All of the reports can be obtained by any citizen filing a FOIA request. Furthermore during the period of 1990 to 2003 the Delta Queen underwent a multimillion dollar refit to mitigate the risk of any fire. This included an extensive high volume USCG approved Sprinkler system, state of the art fire/heat/CO2 detection system with more than 300 sensors all over the vessel monitoring every room and compartment at all times. Major reduction in “fireload” by the removal of all combustible materials and replacement with USCG approved fire retardant material during the renovation of all passenger a crew spaces. With approval from the USCG all non-public spaces aboard the vessel have had all combustible construction materials removed and replaced with non-combustibles. In the public spaces, anytime combustible building material is removed, it is replaced with non-combustible material and a thin overlay of the original surface material is used to reduce the risk of fire. All of these renovations were performed based on detailed plans that have all been approved by the USCG Machinery Branch in Washington, DC.

Maintenance dirung her time at Chattanooga: It’s been questioned whether the Delta Queen has been maintained properly since she’ve operating as a hotel at Chattanooga. Fac ist, the vessel sailed under its own power to Chattanooga from New Orleans under the approval of the USCG with a fully licensed crew. The vessel has been surveyed by several former Chief Engineers of the vessel and a detailed plan of the required renovations to bring the vessel back up to current regulations (with exception of the non-combustible material construction requirement) has been developed and shared with members of congress. During the vessel’s stay in Chattanooga is has been routinely maintained by USCG licensed marine engineers, with specific experience on steam-powered vessels.

Competence in marine operations: It’s being questioned whether the pending new owner of the Delta Queen has any competence in maritime operations. Fact is, the prospective buyers of the Delta Queen have worked closely with Congressman Chabot to ensure members of Congress have all of the information needed to make a sound decision regarding their plans for the vessel. This group consists of former Delta Queen Steamboat Company executives, Marine Engineers, and Captains with decades of experience operating steam-powered cruise vessels, in particular the Delta Queen. Their experience and ability to safely and profitably operate vessels of this type is evident by their long history with them.

The prospective owners have shared their plans with multiple members, and regulatory agencies involved. These plans include addressing the USCG’s primary safety concerns for the vessel. These concerns include but are not limited to the replacement of the original vintage riveted boilers with new welded fufully automated low-emission boilers, new low-emission electrical generators with sealed enclosures, construction of fire-proof bulkheads on all sides and roof of the boiler spaces, improved evacuation from the bow and stern of the vessel and improvements to the electrical switchboard. All of these improvements will be documented and approved by the USCG as required prior to the vessel’s return to service. Even with passage of this bill, the Delta Queen will have to satisfy the USCG in all aspects of maritime safety (with the exception of non-combustible material construction) in order to be granted a Certificate of Inspection.

Exemption for 15 years: It’s being questioned why the exemption is supposed to last for such a long time period as 15 years. In 1998, Congress passed said exemption for a term of 10 years. The proposed 15 year exemption allows the prospective buyers to operate the vessel generating enough income to pay for the renovations and setup an endowment fund for the retirement of the Delta Queen at the conclusion of the vessels 100th year of safe operation. It is expected the last 5 years of the exemption will be used to create the endowment fund and ready the vessel for a profitable and suitable retirement to a dockside attraction.

Maintaining safety: Even the overall ability of the Detla Queen to maintain safety and run as a cruise ship at all from a technical standpoint is being questioned. Fact is that the prospective buyers plan to replace the steam boilers with modern, fully automated boilers and the main steam pipe providing high pressure steam to the engines. There is no waiver sought related to the safety, inspection or operation of the steam equipment or any other machinery on board. This equipment is no different than that on the American Queen, built in 1995 that is currently sailing the Mississippi River system under approval and regulation of the USCG. When the Safety At Sea Act was passed, the Delta Queen was inadvertently included in the law as it was the only vessel operating within the boundary of the United States. The Safety At Sea (with emphasis on SEA) was targeted at vessel of such construction that would be too far from land for the safe and immediate evacuation of passengers and crew. This came after the YARMOUTH CASTLE, a wooden cruise ship burned in the Bahamas resulting in large casualties. Had that ship been within sight of land, as the Delta Queen is at all times, assistance from rescuers would have been immediate and there would likely have been no loss of life.

Coast Cuard Report from 2008: A report by the US Coast Guard from 2008 is being held against the Delta Queen, concluding the Delta Queen being a risk to its passengers and crew. Upon reading the above mentioned report, prepared by Marc Cruder of the USCG, one will see the primary concerns addressed relate to the vessel’s steam boilers, generators and electrical systems. In addition to those concerns, the USCG would like to see improved evacuation capabilities for all areas of the vessel. Praise was given for the crew competency, training routines and the daily operation of the vessel in regard to passenger and crew safety, especially when pertaining to fire detection, suppression and safety drills. These concerns are all being addressed by the prospective buyers who have already reached out to the USCG to begin discussions of the exact plans. It is clear when speaking with the prospective buyers that safety of not only the passengers and crew, but also the irreplaceable Delta Queen itself is of their highest priority.

A fire incident in the Delta Queen’s generator room is being held against the Delta Queen’s safety. But fact is: Further examination of these incidents will show that the current fire detection and suppression systems combined with exemplary crew training has detected and resolved these incidents exactly as prescribed in the USCG shipboard safety drills and exercises. These events show the great degree the vessel’s crew has gone to mitigate the known fire-risk inherent with the vessel’s construction. In my opinion these are success stories, rather than causes for alarm.

Delta Queen as a day excursion vessel: It’s being suggested that the Delta Queen better run as a day excursion boat rather than an overnight passenger vessel. But due the immense size of the Delta Queen and the vessel’s current configuration it would not be economically viable to operate the vessel in daytime excursion service. Major renovations to the vessel’s interior spaces would be required to increase the current capacity from 176 passengers to the 800-1200 passengers needed for a vessel of that size in day-time excursion service. These changes would destroy the historical integrity of the vessel as well as jeopardize its National Historic Landmark status. The question I beg to ask, is what makes it okay to expose passengers to 800-1200 passengers to the supposed fire risk during the day rather than 176 passengers overnight.

General navigational hazards: And even general navigational hazards on the rivers are considered too much of a risk for a riverboat. But these are known hazards to navigation that the USCG has been testing and certifying vessel crews on for over a century. The Delta Queen has successfully navigated these waters for more than 60 years without the loss of life of a single passenger due to unnatural causes. Multiple other vessels are currently certified by the USCG to carry passengers overnight on these same waters.

Preserving the Delta Queen as a hotel: And her opponents say that she could well be preserved by concerting her to a hotel like the Delta King at Sacramento, CA. But the Delta Queen and the Delta King, while built as identical in 1927 have lived very different lives and seen very different uses. The Delta King has not been in operation as a vessel since 1946, and thus has not seen any of the safety improvements and continual updates that the Delta Queen has. In fact, the added safety features of the Delta Queen, combined with the vessel’s crew fully trained in fire fighting by a USCG approved training school makes the Delta Queen far safer to stay overnight on while in operation than the Delta King, and most other land based hotels where staffing is minimal.


2 Responses to “Why the Delta Queen is safe to run as a cruise ship …”

  1. Jon Murphy Says:

    Long Live the Delta Queen! Her opponents are ill-informed. If you listen to them, you would think that she is a quaint, 19th century, paddle-wheeler made of pine boards. The public at large needs to understand that she is made of STEEL from the keel up. More should be made of the connections between organized labor and the politicians so concerned about “safety”. As a former naval officer, I saw first hand what unions did to US shipping. There isn’t any. We no longer have a merchant marine. In two years at sea I saw exactly ONE US flagged cargo ship – and that was chartered by the defense department. It’s too expensive so we don’t have our own ships – a definite national security issue caused by politics. This small victory is very cheering. As a native Cincinnatian who spent his whole life watching the DQ come home year after year, I can’t express how much this means to me. Thank you, everyone, who has worked for this.

  2. Debra Lynn Stover McNeal Says:

    To Whom It May Concern: I am extremely happy to hear of such wonderful, caring and educated individuals willing to spend their time, money, thoughts, and efforts in support of the Delta Queen Steamboat. I feel the Delta Queen is an historical icon, which has been, and will always be an educational, and informative steamboat in history. As a West Virginian, who always looked forward to seeing this wonderful, beautiful steamboat paddling on the river past the home where we lived at, was such a wonderful memory. I can remember my mother, Dorothy Lucille Hunt Stover, and my grandmother, Eliza Jane Cossin Hunt, taking turns all night long, staying up looking, and listening for the Delta Queen when she was expected to go past. When the Delta Queen came in sight, they would always wake both my brother and I up just to see the Delta Queen pass by. I can remember us missing a lot of events that we would normally be at just to get a glimpse of this wonderful steamboat. My memories take me back to being on the Ohio River taking a cruise on the Delta Queen, knowing how happy I felt going past where we lived in a beautiful home located at 103 8th Street, Point Pleasant, West Virginia 25550, in a home owned by Walter (Hollywood), & Betty Jo Russell, Bulmer. I could always look over and see from a different view, where I always loved to live at. My cousin, Brenda Carol Knight Chaffin was on the Delta Queen back in the 1950’s, with my family. My memories take me back to the 1970’s, when both my mother & grandmother went door to door getting signatures in support of the Delta Queen, just to help keep the Delta Queen on the river, as I am the third generation in my family in favor of keeping “Saving the Delta Queen.” I feel that this is the only steamboat that draws a huge amount of the citizens care and attention due to it’s historical history, and memories. The Delta Queen is also the only steamboat that can part the water so visually,with its powerful paddle wheel, like no other steamboat can do. The calliope has a one of kind sound, as well as being the only steamboat that you can really see coming down the river so beautifully in it’s own way.. So, you see the Delta Queen is a very integral part of my family, as well as many other individuals. I hope and pray that one day soon, we will see the Delta Queen paddling on the rivers again, as I would love to take my husband Wayne McNeal, and my son Brandon-Wayne McNeal on a cruise/excursion on the Delta Queen, seeing once again the beautiful Ohio River, and the rolling hills, that I so well remember. They can make all of the steamboats that they want, however, there will never be another steamboat so well loved, and respected as the Delta Queen. Therefor, I am respectfully requesting to help “Save the Delta Queen.” Thank You, Debra Lynn Stover McNeal, Point Pleasant, West Virginia. 25550.