The Delta Queen, the quintessential American fixture on the Mississippi River, dies at the end of the month when an exemption that allowed it to travel the river from St. Paul to New Orleans expires.
What’s behind its demise? It’s either a public safety issue — the ship is made of wood — or it’s a payback to a union from an influential Minnesota congressman.
The New York Times tackles the issue today but doesn’t answer the question as it documents the Delta Queen’s last scheduled visit to Cincinnati on the Ohio River.
Rep. James Oberstar, who chairs the House Infrastructure and Transportation Committee, is refusing to allow a vote on an exemption allowing the steamboat to continue. Oberstar, the Times says, cites a Coast Guard evaluation that the ship is a “fire hazard.”
But Capt. Erik Christensen, chief of the Coast Guard’s office of vessel activity, denies that characterization.
The newspaper story suggests Oberstar is sinking the ship at the behest of the Seafarers International Union, which represented the boat crew until a new owner forced the union off the steamboat. The union is a campaign contributor to Oberstar’s re-election.
The Queen’s supporters have tried video to help save it, but it never “went viral.”
Politics aside, here’s a nice multimedia slideshow of the Delta Queen, produced last year.