American Queen Steamboat Co. has awarded a contract to Gulf Island Shipyards to convert a 23-year-old casino boat into a 245-passenger overnight riverboat.

The Kanesville Queen will become the American Countess, the fourth vessel for American Queen that recently moved its headquarters from Memphis, Tenn., to New Albany, Ind.

Construction is expected to begin in the fourth quarter. No delivery date or itinerary has been announced. The company earlier said it expected to start cruising primarily the Lower Mississippi River next year.

The 257’x78’x14’ boat will travel under its own power to Gulf Island in Houma, La., from Marine Builders Inc., Jeffersonville, Ind., where it’s been sitting since moving from Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Part of the transformation includes adding a 60’ midbody to the vessel that company president Ted Sykes called “a nice platform to start from.”

American Queen Steamboat has built its fleet buying and refurbishing used vessels. It began in 2011 with the purchase of the 236-passenger American Queen from the Maritime Administration. Two years later it bought the 223-passenger American Empress from Marad. Both boats, constructed with Title XI federal loan guarantees, were turned over to the agency after the 2008 collapse of Majestic America Line.

In August 2016 American Queen bought the 280’6”x87’x14’ Iowa casino boat Bettendorf Capri and turned it into the 192-passenger, 314’x100’x14’ riverboat American Duchess launched last year (the addition of a paddlewheel increased the length).

“We continue to break sales records and incredible demand remains for more capacity on the river with each of our boats continuing to sail full,” American Queen Steamboat chairman John Waggoner said in a prepared statement about the Kanesville Queen conversion.

“American Queen Steamboat Company has led the market in a renaissance of domestic river cruising and our skilled team is honored to carry on the legacy of shipbuilding in U.S. building the American Countess,” said Kirk Meche, president and CEO of Gulf Island.

American Queen shifted its headquarters to Indiana “to synergize shoreside operations with parent company HMS Global Maritime,” the company said. Waggoner is president and CEO of HMS. The company “remains committed to the Memphis community” with two vessels that have 67 sailings beginning or ending in the city.


Dale DuPont has been a correspondent for WorkBoat since 1998. She has worked at daily and weekly newspapers in Texas, Maryland, and most recently as a business writer and editor at The Miami Herald, covering the cruise, marine and other industries. She and her husband once owned a weekly newspaper in Cooperstown, N.Y., across the alley from the Baseball Hall of Fame. A South Florida resident, she enjoys sailing on Biscayne Bay, except in hurricane season.