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Venetians Protest Cruise Ships Inundating Their Waters

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Posted on Sep 24, 2013
Valerio 'Dokka' D'Introno (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Residents of Venice, Italy, are voicing their discontent at the inordinate number of tourists being ferried in by behemoth boats. About 50 protesters jumped into the Giudecca Canal on Saturday to stop 12 enormous cruise ships from heading to St. Mark’s Square, while a thousand other demonstrators supported their wet-suited compatriots from dry land by banging on pots and pans. They managed to delay the boats, carrying 35,000 visitors, by an hour. 

Although usually only two or so such ships enter the canal per day, since 1999 the number of tourists poured into Venice via cruise lines has increased from 100,000 to nearly 2 million. Some Italians believe this is “killing Venice,” so much so that famous singer Adriano Celentano placed a full-page ad in a newspaper claiming as much.

The Atlantic explains why Venice dwellers are upset about their delicate city being deluged:

This anger comes substantially from safety concerns. Italy is still dealing with the fallout from last year’s Costa Concordia tragedy, when a cruise ship ran aground on the Tyrrhenian Coast, killing 32. Seven more people died in May, when a cargo ship collided with a control tower in the port of Genoa, causing people to further lose faith in shipping safety. With incidents likethis one filmed in July, when a large ship came within spoon-throwing distance of a quayside café, Venetians feel that without some changes it’s a only a matter of time until a major incident happens in the city. The ships can only navigate within deep shipping channels, of course, barring them from Venice’s main canals, but still congregate around St Mark’s Basin, just off the city’s main square, blocking views, clogging up waterways and adding to congestion that helped cause the death of a German tourist last month. While the accident was not directly linked to cruise ships – it involved a collision between a gondola and a vaporetto waterbus – it highlighted the need to regulate water traffic more carefully even before this weekend’s maritime gridlock occurred.

Collisions are not the only threat however. Massed cruise ships pump higher levels of particulates into the air and risk eroding Venice’s already fragile breakwaters and low banks. These risks are offset by the revenue that tourism brings, on which the city overwhelmingly relies despite the apparently crisis-proof health of its wider region’s economy. Cruisers, however, are often seen as putting stress on the city without paying much back in return. Although local advocates for the cruise liners claim that five thousand city jobs depend on them, Venetians receive proportionally far less cash from visitors who eat and sleep aboard ship than they do from visitors arriving across the Ponte Della Liberta bridge from the mainland.

Venetians may be angry, but the good news is that the authorities seem to be listening.  According to news this weekend, Ministers look set to banish liners next month from St. Mark’s Basin and the Giudecca Canal, the one major Venice waterway deep and wide enough to contain them. They’ll most likely be re-routed to moor at Marghera, a deep-water port just opposite Venice on its industrial mainland.

At least the Italian government seems to be sensitive to Venetians’ pleas to preserve their dolce vita.

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi

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