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November 27, 2010

Burying The Lede: The Delta Queen Suggests A Sea Change

Sean Hamill has a well written story in Saturday's Post-Gazette about the Delta Queen and her possible return to service as a riverine resort, a moored motel, or a crap-shooting casino.

The article tells the vessel's history and the fortunes of similar ships from the same era. The story goes on to describe the effect of the recent election on the ship's future utility, and in doing so hints at the pending sea change in transportation policy.

To lift a few details from Mr. Hamill's excellent piece, the 1966 federal Safety at Sea Act (P.L. 89-777) forced any predominantly wooden boat to cease operating as an overnight cruise vessel if it carried more than 49 passengers.

Although the Delta Queen has a steel hull, she has a wooden superstructure and carries up to 174 passengers. Congress had granted her nine exemptions to the Safety at Sea Act since 1966.

The last waiver expired Oct. 31, 2008, after Rep. James Oberstar, D-MN, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, denied the owner's request for a tenth exemption. Oberstar said he was concerned about the possibility of a fire on the wooden boat.

Company officials claimed that Mr. Oberstar opposed the tenth exemption because the company had forced the Seafarers International Union, which represented the Delta Queen's crew, off the boat when they bought it in 2006.

In this month's elections, Mr. Oberstar lost his House seat to a Republican challenger, ending his eighteen consecutive terms.

Since the House went Republican, the new Chairman of the House Transportation Committee is Rep. John Mica, R-FL. Mica's ascendence bodes well for the vessel's owners; this Republican has never met a union-busting Company that he wouldn't sell grant a safety waiver to.

To WWVB's untrained eye, this smacks of union-busting. A new Company bought the ship and forced the union out, replacing them with lower-paid employees. Oberstar, a good man and a union supporter, gave them a taste of their own medicine; in a way, he locked out the owners the same as they threw out the union.

Mr. Hamill's story about a parochial point of interest paints a broader picture of the times and suggests the shift we'll soon see in trucks, trains, ships and planes.


Fess Parker said...

Is Congressman Mica sporting a beaver pelt on his head? Possibly a raccoon?

Anonymous said...

Why do you insult beavers and racoons?

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