Sunday, June 13

Angry protests in Venice over the return of cruise ships | Italy

Anti-cruise activists in Venice claim they were “duped” by the Italian government when hundreds protested the huge ships docking in the city’s historic port on Saturday.

Residents were surprised Thursday when a cruise ship entered the lagoon city for the first time since the pandemic began, despite the government of Prime Minister Mario Draghi declaring that ships would be banned from the historic center. The 92,000-ton ship MSC Orchestra picked up 650 passengers before leaving for Bari, in southern Italy, on Saturday.

“The Italian government has been excellent at misleading not only the citizens of Venice, but the newspapers and public opinion around the world,” said Tommaso Cacciari, leader of the activist group No Grandi Navi (No Big Ships).

Si Grandi Navi, a movement that supports the thousands of people in the area whose livelihoods depend on the cruise industry and who have been out of work since the pandemic broke out in the spring of last year, held a counter-protest.

The government announced in late March that cruise ships would be prohibited from passing through San Marcos Square and docking in the historic center. The plan was to divert ships to the industrial port of Marghera while planning the construction of a cruise terminal outside the lagoon.

The decree was approved by the lower house of parliament last month, with Dario Franceschini, the culture minister, reiterating that ships “as tall as apartment buildings” had been prevented from reaching central Venice “forever.”

Actually, for it to be feasible to redirect cruise ships to the port of Marghera, the infrastructure work must first be done. Meanwhile, the only way for ships to enter Venice is through the Giudecca canal, where in June 2019 a 13-deck ship operated by MSC crashed into a pier and a tourist boat, injuring five people.

“The government knew it was impossible, as the channel that ships must pass through to reach Marghera is too narrow and not deep enough,” Cacciari said. “Therefore, it would be necessary to dredge the channel for that to happen, which would be even more devastating for the balance of the lagoon.”

Cacciari added: “The objective of this protest is to make the government realize and explain – everyone reported on this story – and yet here are the big ships again. It is shameful “.

The MSC Orchestra cruise ship in Venice
The government announced in March that cruise ships would be banned from the historic center. Photograph: Andrea Pattaro / AFP / Getty Images

Elena Riu, a resident of Venice, said: “I am not surprised because we are used to statements coming to nothing. But more than anything it makes me angry, since we have had all this time during the pandemic to reflect and think of something better. Instead, nothing has changed. “

Tourists have started to fill Venice’s narrow streets again after coronavirus travel restrictions were relaxed in mid-May. Before the pandemic, the city received about 28 million visitors a year.

Cruise ships have always been a bone of contention in the city, and those against them argue that they have damaged the lagoon and eroded the foundations of buildings at the Unesco world heritage site. But the travel and cruise industries have also contributed to the local economy: around 5,000 people are typically employed at the Venice cruise terminal.

“The reason we are sending ships to Venice this year, which is another Covid-19 plagued year, is because the local community has asked us many times to return,” said Francesco Galietti, Italy unit director for the Association. Cruise Lines International (CLIA).

Any progress towards finding a solution, which must be agreed upon by the federal government together with local and regional governments and port authorities, has been hampered by political volatility.

“For years, the cruise industry has been asking the authorities for a stable solution for the access of ships to Venice,” added Galietti. “There was a time when we thought we had nailed one, but then the government collapsed. To find a solution, you need a completely perfect alignment between Rome and Venice, which is not that simple. “

He said several other former industrial ports were being considered as temporary docks, along with Marghera. But he added: “They must be reused for passenger use … which will take about six months.”

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