N.O. Passenger Vessel Operators Affected

Katrina has severely disrupted several New Orleans-area passenger vessel operations. Most of the city’s day and overnight cruise operators depend heavily on tourists, who are unlikely to return in large numbers anytime soon.

New Orleans Paddlewheels Inc. and New Orleans Steamboat Co., the city’s two dinner-excursion boat operators, rely heavily on the tourist trade. In mid-September, New Orleans Paddlewheels was seeking any type of work to keep its two boats, the Creole Queen and Cajun Queen, and its employees busy.

Capt. Al Christian, master on the Creole Queen, a 190’x40’, 1,000-passenger paddlewheeler, said, “any type of work for these boats will be considered. This is an effort to keep our business alive and our employees working. We will consider any work, anywhere, anytime.”

Right after Katrina hit, the 140’x38’, 600-passenger Cajun Queen was used by police officials, but “now we’re are looking for tourists or anyone else interested in using the boat,” said Christian.

In normal times, New Orleans Paddlewheels offers five daily Mississippi River cruises plus a dinner-jazz cruise in the evening.

Gordon Stevens, president of New Orleans Steamboat, is also anxious to get back to work. The company moved its two boats, the 1,600-passenger Natchez and the 600-passenger John James Audubon, upriver near Baton Rouge, La., before the storm.

“We got the boats out of town and it’s really good that we did,” said Stevens. “If we rode it out in New Orleans, we would have been terribly exposed.”

Stevens said they plan to return the vessels to New Orleans on Oct. 1 and resume cruises on Oct. 3. Before the storm, the company offered three jazz cruises a day.

“I think business will come back faster than people think,” Stevens said. “We are already receiving inquiries and we say ‘come on in and take a cruise.’ ”

The storm also affected the city’s two overnight passenger vessel operators.

Delta Queen Steamboat Co. has set up temporary offices for its marine and hotel operations in Memphis, Tenn. Its three vessels were upriver and were not damaged. However, the company has cancelled the fall and winter cruise schedules of its 436-passenger American Queen. Most of the American Queen’s sailings were out of New Orleans. The vessel will begin sailing again on March 6, 2006. Some itineraries for the authentic steamboats Delta Queen and Mississippi Queen have also been cancelled.

“It will be very difficult for us to operate out of New Orleans for some time,” said spokesperson Wendy Watkins. It also was too early to tell whether Delta Queen would keep its headquarters in the city, she said.

RiverBarge Excursion Lines Inc. relocated its offices to Houston, said Larry Conrad, director of sales and marketing.

“We were fortunate our vessel was in St. Louis,” Conrad said. The 196-passenger overnight excursion vessel was not scheduled to return to New Orleans until after Thanksgiving. “At this point, we’re not canceling anything. It will depend on the recovery,” he said.        — D. Krapf and D. DuPont 

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