Italians protest over the return of cruise ships to Venice

Protesters on small boats and on the quay "welcomed" the first cruiseliner since 17 months to Venice. Image: Reuters/Youtube

As a result of corona restrictions easing down in Europe, tourists are travelling again across the continent. In Venice, Italy, the first cruise ship in 17 months sailed through the city. But as the big vessels return to the City of Bridges, so do the protests from citizens against and in favour of cruise ships.

The massive cruise ship was greeted by angry residents in boats protesting against its return. And the protesters do have a point, since the Italian government already passed a law in May 2021 that says that ships must dock outside the lagoon, Italian newspaper La Repubblica wrote. But since the construction of a new ship route, docking places, and tourist terminals takes years, the current ban on large ships is lifted since there is no alternative waterway.

Shameful sailing

On 3 June, the “No Grandi Navi” (No Big Ships) movement demonstrated against the arrival of a cruise ships, that left again on the 5 June. The protesters believe that large ships have a “devastating impact” on the UNESCO World Heritage site, its foundations and delicate environment, Italian newspaper Corriere della Serra reported. (Text continues below video)

No Grandi Navi claims the government has fooled the residents of Venice. As the new route is being planned, cruise ships should be redirected to the industrial Marghera port, outside of the historic city centre. But to make this temporary route accessible for large cruise ships, infrastructure work needs to be done first. In the meantime, ships can only enter Venice via the Giudecca canal, straight through the city’s lagoon.

The current route (purple) follows the Giudecca canal, straight past the historic and protected city centre of Venice. Image: Google Maps

“The government knew it was impossible, as the canal that the ships must pass through to reach Marghera is too narrow and not deep enough,” Tommaso Cacciari, leader of the activist group No Grandi Navi told The Guardian. The movement wants to protest to make the government why big ships have returned to the heart of Venice. “It’s shameful”, Cacciari added.

Images of a deserted Venice went all over the world over the past few months, and even dolphins returned to the city’s canals. Residents hoped life after the pandemic would change, making the city less dependent on harmful mass tourism. However, local resident Elena Riu was not surprised the government’s declaration came to nothing. “But more than anything it makes me angry as we’ve had all this time during the pandemic to reflect and come up with something better”, she explained. “Instead, nothing has changed.”

Long expected return

On the other side of the issue stands the “Si Grandi Navi” movement. It welcomes cruise ships back with open arms “because the sector has not worked for 17 months”, Corriere della Serra wrote. Since cities like Venice are dependent on tourists, the past year and a half have been very hard on locals as they lost their income. However, the pandemic has shown that Italy’s heritage and tourism sectors depend on unsustainable mass tourism to survive. France24 reported the effects of the pandemic on tourism in the video below. (Text continues below video)

Cruise operators are happy to return to Venice, also because “we’ve been asked many times by the local community to please come back”, explained Francesco Gallieti, the director of the Italy unit for the Cruise Lines International Association. “For years, the cruise industry has been asking the authorities for a stable solution for the access of ships to Venice”, he added. But so far, negotiations have gone nowhere due to the federal, regional and local governments not striking an accord over political differences. 

Cruise operators are looking to convert (former) industrial ports outside the old city to temporary docks. “However, they need to be repurposed for passenger use … which will require about six months”, Gallieti added.

Source: Corriere della Serra (Italian), La Repubblica (Italian) and The Guardian

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