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Tuesday, May 23, 2006 - Page updated at 03:17 PM

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Northwest cruise line cancels 2006 sailings

Seattle Times travel writer

Financially-troubled Great American Journeys has cancelled all of its Northwest riverboat cruises for the 2006 season, but co-owner Douglas Toms says he hopes to start operating again next year with the help of new investors.

The Seattle-based company operated the luxury 160-passenger Columbia Queen riverboat along the Columbia, Snake and Willamette rivers until it ran into financial problems following a bankruptcy filing by co-owner Don J. Simplot last January.

Great American laid off most of its staff late last year, and owes thousands of dollars to travel agents for unpaid commissions.

Toms said he is continuing to negotiate with a group of New Jersey investors interested in forming a new company to operate the ship. However, the U.S. Maritime Administration, which held the mortgage on the Columbia Queen after its former owner, the Delta Queen Steamboat Co., ceased operations, , recently sold the note to Long Beach-based Ambassadors International, owner of Seattle-based American West Cruises which also operates similar cruises in the Northwest and in Alaska.

"We're competitors, no doubt about it," said Toms. "It's kind of uncomfortable." Great American still holds operating rights to the ship, and has no intention of selling to Ambassadors, he said.

Toms said Great American owes $8.7 million in principal payments on the mortgage, which Ambassadors reportedly bought for $5 million.

Great American Journeys is a division of a larger hospitality and travel group owned by Simplot and Toms, which ran Glacier Bay Cruiseline. That company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization last year. Toms said that Great American would not file for Chapter 11.

Carol Pucci: 206-464-3701 or cpucci@seattletimes.com

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