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A new tour boat, the 582-passenger Maid of the Mist VII, is under construction and is expected to be launched in the lower Niagara River in late June or early July of next year, according to the Maid of the Mist Corp.

The new vessel will be a sister ship to the Maid of the Mist VI, which was launched in 1990.

The company has completed its 1996 season and its boats are being removed from the water for winter storage.

This year's operations began May 20, about three weeks later than the previous year's season.

Nevertheless, the company said Friday, "1996 was very successful. The passenger attendance was about the same as in 1995." The boats carry about 2-million passengers each year.

Ten boats have carried the name Maid of the Mist since the first of them was launched as a ferry in 1846 -- 150 years ago. The service was suspended from 1861 to 1885, when it was resumed strictly as a sightseeing business.

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