The Delta Queen, an historic wooden riverboat, will resume cruising rivers in the United States in 2020 after being sidelined since 2008.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump signed an exemption to the 1966 Safety at Sea Act for the Delta Queen, which began service as an overnight passenger vessel in 1927 and was a naval ship during World War II.
Congress had approved nine exemptions to allow the Delta Queen to continue operations but it expired 10 years ago.
The law is intended to prohibit ocean-bound vessels from carrying overnight passengers unless completely made of non-combustible materials. Without this exemption, the Delta Queen could not move along the rivers even though it was never more than several hundred yards from shore.
“A remarkable piece of the nation’s maritime history is reborn,” Leah Ann Ingram, vice president and chief operating officer of the Delta Queen Steamboat Company, said in a company news release. “The Delta Queen is an American icon that offers a nostalgic experience unlike any other vessel. … We’re thrilled to take the next step to welcoming explorers and history enthusiasts aboard this floating piece of history.”
The Delta Queen’s owners are planning voyages on the Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, Cumberland, Kanawha and Arkansas rivers. Stops are planned at its former ports in Cincinnati from 1948-1985 and later in Chattanooga, Tenn.
But first the 285-foot-long ship will undergo an extensive renovation at a ship yard in Houma, La., that will cost between $10 million and $12 million, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
The original boilers, which were manufactured in 1919, will be replaced along with generators, steam line, heating and air, plumbing and galley. Also, common areas and the 88 staterooms will see cosmetic updates.
“Most of the upgrades will be internal, including the boat’s mechanical systems, but the look and feel will always be that of an authentic 1927 steamboat,” said Cornel Martin, president and chief executive officer of the Delta Queen Steamboat Company. “Preserving the historical integrity of our beloved Queen is very important to us. Well-appointed furnishings and decor will offer a more comfortable experience while preserving the nostalgic touches her passengers expect.”
The ship will operate from a new home port in Kimmswick, Mo., creating more than 170 jobs to the St. Louis area, acording to the Jefferson County Economic Development Corporation.
“I’m thrilled the Delta Queen will once again part the Mississippi as I depart the Senate,” Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, said in a statement. “This historic landmark will highlight the rich history of the state I love, supporting local communities up and down the river.”
She co-sponsored the legislation with Missouri colleague Roy Blunt, a Republican.
The Delta Queen, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is classified as a National Historic Landmark, is the “oldest overnight passenger steamboat still fully intact and capable of traveling the inland waterways of America,” the company states on its website.