A wooden paddle-wheeler "The Delta Queen", will make her final overnight cruise next year unless the U.S. government extends an exemption from modern fire codes.
A group organized by a Munich, Germany-based riverboat enthusiast, Save-the-Delta-Queen.org, is campaigning to renew the exemption, which recently failed to gain support in a House committee.
"The Mississippi is not the Mississippi without her," former Memphis Queen captain Dale Lozier told The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal newspaper's Washington bureau.
The U.S. House's Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has declined to extend the 10-year exemption, citing fears that the ship built in 1926 could become a fire hazard.
"I can't imagine the number of lives that could be lost if a fire started on the Delta Queen when everyone is asleep," said Democratic Rep. James Oberstar.
Under the terms of a 1960 law, ships with more than 50 staterooms must be constructed of inflammable materials.
On the Save-the-Delta-Queen.org website, testimonials and pleas are being circulated encouraging a letter-writing campaign to persuade members of Congress to keep the ship sailing.
The Delta Queen accommodates 176 passengers on cruises that include the Mississippi, Ohio and Arkansas rivers. The ship's owners have sought exemption from the rules but this year failed to win one.
The company that owns the Delta Queen, the Seattle-based Majestic America Line, said it is planning "a proper and well-deserved send-off" for next year's last cruises.
According to an official history of the Delta Queen, the boat has carried Presidents Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter and Princess Margaret of Britain. Its famous calliope was salvaged from a sunken showboat.
The Delta Queen was en route from Memphis, Tennessee to Little Rock, Arkansas on a seven-day cruise on Monday. Its final voyage is expected to be an Oct. 31, 2008, trip to New Orleans.