Passenger Vessels

Steamboat Natchez Catches Fire On Industrial Canal

The Steamboat Natchez, the iconic New Orleans-based sternwheeler built in 1975, caught fire the night of May 3 while moored in the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal.

The New Orleans Fire Department deployed to the Natchez shortly after 8 p.m. and began battling a fire in the vicinity of the vessel’s engineroom. According to local media reports, construction crews had been at work in the engineroom earlier than day.

“They are still investigating the cause,” said Adrienne Thomas with the New Orleans Steamboat Company. “Right now, a cost has not been determined. The fire department and Coast Guard arrived so quickly that the fire was rather contained on the bottom deck in the electrical room.”

The Natchez was laid up and in the midst of a bow-to-stern renovation.

“The extent of the planned renovations is boat-wide,” Thomas said. “We installed a new boiler to start. We reconfigured the texas deck—switching the gift shop to the bow and the Texas Bar to the stern where there is more seating. The dining salon was stripped down and new walls and ceilings and restrooms were installed.”

Before the fire, the company planned to put the Natchez back into service offering day sails on the Mississippi River in New Orleans this summer.

“Our timeline was approximately June, [although] the fire may push us back a few weeks,” Thomas said. “We will need to wait until they know more.”

In the meantime, the New Orleans Steamboat Company continues to operate the riverboat City of New Orleans. The multi-faceted company also operates Gray Line New Orleans bus tours, Cafe Beignet outlets and an event management company.

The Steamboat Natchez remains one of the most recognizable landmarks of the New Orleans riverfront. New Orleans maritime legend Bill Bergeron was just 23 years old when he was awarded the contract to build the Natchez. He won that contract despite having neither experience building ships nor a shipyard. Despite that, Bergeron launched and delivered the Natchez in 1975. It’s plied the Mississippi River in and around New Orleans ever since.