Large cruise ships return to Venice despite recent ban

The Italian government pledged this spring to move cruise ships out of the Venice Lagoon, but achieving that will take time.

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The first cruise ship since the pandemic passed through the heart of Venice on Saturday, escorted by triumphant tugs and delighted port workers as it descended the Giudecca Canal, but it was also protested by hundreds ashore and a small armada of wooden boats waving “No Big Boats” flags.

The battle for the future of Venice has been fierce as the MSC Orchestra depart with some 1,000 passengers. The trip heralded the return of cruise ships to the historic canal town after more than 18 months, but the ship reignited an anti-cruise movement that for more than a decade opposed the passage of huge ships. across the fragile lagoon due to the environment and safety concerns.

The government of Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi pledged this spring to move cruise ships out of the Venice lagoon, but achieving that will take time. Even an interim solution diverting the biggest ships from the Giudecca Canal is not likely until next year. Ridding the lagoon of ships, which are over 250 meters long and weigh over 90,000 tonnes, could take years.

Venice has emerged as one of the most important cruise destinations in the world over the past two decades, and in 2019 served as a lucrative recovery point for 667 cruise ships carrying nearly 700,000 passengers and carrying a total of 1, 6 million, according to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).

Passengers arriving Saturday for the weeklong cruise aboard the 92,409-ton 16-deck MSC Orchestra, with stopovers in southern Italy, two Greek islands and Dubrovnik, Croatia, were greeted at the port with signs saying “Welcome Back Cruises”.

Antonella Frigo from the nearby town of Vicenza has had her departure date delayed several times due to the pandemic and was delighted to finally go on vacation. But she also sympathized with activists who want the huge ships moved from central Venice.

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“I always said they should be moved, but I’m sorry I have to leave Venice as I’m from the surrounding area,” Frigo said after being dropped off with a companion at the cruise terminal. “But I hope they can be rerouted. I ask myself: ‘Is it not possible to find another solution, so that they do not go where they should not?’ “

The message for passengers taking Venice from the ship’s decks was mixed as the ship sailed the Giudecca Canal past St Mark’s Square and the Doge’s Palace. Hundreds of Venetians gathered in a noisy demonstration by the canal to demand the immediate halt of cruise ships crossing the lagoon, citing a series of past decrees which they say have never been implemented.

The MSC Orchestra responded with loud honking, as two dozen boats filled with harbor workers and VIPs circled alongside, celebrating the renewal of cruises and the return to work of hundreds of harbor workers. According to the Venice works council, more than 1,700 workers deal directly with cruise ships, from tug operators to baggage carriers, while another 4,000 jobs depend on cruise traffic.

The long battle over cruise ships in Venice intensified after the Costa concordia cruise ship sank off Tuscany in 2012, killing 32 passengers and crew. And it sharpened after the MSC Opera struck a dock and a tourist boat, injuring five people, while sailing the Giudecca Canal two years ago this week.

In all these years, no viable alternative has ever emerged.

The Venice Environmental Association, one of the groups against ships, demands that Italian cultural and port authorities immediately ban ships from the lagoon, threatening legal action if there is no action within 15 days.

“It is a great provocation that a ship has passed,” said Andreina Zitelli, environmental expert and member of the association. “You can’t compare defending the city with defending jobs in the interests of the big cruise lines.”

The cruise industry trade association said it supports moving larger ships to other areas to avoid crossing the Giudecca Canal, but maintains cruise ships still need access at the Venice lagoon.

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“We don’t want to be a corporate villain,” said Francesco Galietti of Cruise Lines International Italy. “We don’t think we should be treated as such. We think we are good for the communities.

Galietti said cruise ships make up a small percentage of tourism in Venice, around 5%, and many passengers stay in the city before or after their cruises, contributing an average of $ 200 per day to the economy. dependent on tourism.

Before the pandemic, Venice was struggling with overtourism, receiving 25 million visitors a year. He was on the verge of imposing a tax on day trippers before the pandemic struck, sharply cutting tourism off.

In Rome, the Italian government said it was organizing tenders for a viable alternative outside the lagoon, and the request for proposals is expected to be released overnight. Yet even a temporary alternative route to the Giudecca Canal – moving larger ships to an industrial port west of Venice – won’t be ready until next year, Italy’s Ministry of Infrastructure and Civilization said. Sustainable mobility from The Associated Press.

Preparing the port of Marghera, which still sits in the lagoon, requires lengthening existing piers to accommodate larger ships as well as dredging a canal on the approach, cruise industry officials say. . Under current plans, ships over 820 feet, accounting for about 70 percent of cruise traffic, would be rerouted.

While some cruise lines have experimented with Trieste in the east or Ravenna in the south as landing points for those visiting Venice during the pandemic, industry officials say the lagoon city with 1,600 years of history remains a key stopover for cruises in the Adriatic and Eastern Mediterranean.

But environmentalists say the cruise industry needs to change.

“Venice is at water level. There are days when Venice is below the water level, ”said Jane da Mosto, executive director of We Are Here Venice, who also represented the Global Cruise Activist Network. “We need ships that use renewable energy. We need ships that don’t bring thousands of people through our narrow lanes at once. We need visitors who want to know more about Venice. ”

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