Protesters clashed with riot police during the blockade of Venice’s Cruise Port last weekend, with the three days of protests organised by Venetians and environmentalists, who are opposed to cruise ships crossing the St Mark’s Basin, with many vessels much taller than anything in Venice, where the tallest buildings are four or five stories high.
With opposition mounting to cruise liners that pass within meters of the city’s fragile churches and palaces, protesters waved inflatable beach toys as they tried to push through police lines at the weekend to where cruise ships moored and a flotilla of 40 small boats swarmed round the ships, blocking their exit from Venice for hours, according to Gazzetta del Sud.
Silvio Testa, representing the protestors and the local pressure group said, “We want the cruise ships out of the Venice Lagoon and this successful demonstration really made that point,” adding that 660 cruise ships annually skirt St Mark’s Square and inch down the city’s Giudeca canal before docking.
Mr Testa said four vessels carrying about 15,000 passengers had been held up by the protesters, with a cargo ship smashing into a 165ft tall observation tower in Genoa harbour in May, toppling it into the sea and killing seven people and fears of a similar incident in Venice growing, including after the Costa Concordia cruise ship smashed into rocks on the Tuscan island of Giglio last year.
Gianni Darai, a Venetian activist also said, “The managers at the port argue that sand banks in the Giudeca canal would stop a ship colliding with buildings, but 110,000 tonnes of cruise ship would have the force to do a lot of damage.”
Mr Testa added that the fragility of Venice’s ancient architecture was also evident again at the weekend as a section of St Mark’s Square was cordoned off when crumbling bricks fell from the bell tower of the basilica, with protesters also warning of damage to the foundations of buildings as the passing ships displace thousands of tonnes of water, claiming each vessel generates the same amount of pollution as 14,000 cars.
Residents have also complained about the sight of the tower block like ships looming over Venice’s narrow streets and say souvenir shops catering to cruise holiday tourists who spend a few fleeting hours in the city are pushing rents up and forcing out local shops, but a committee set up to defend the ships has countered that the 1.8 million tourists sailing into town each year provide work for 5,000 families, while the port authority says the business provides 3 per cent of Venice’s GDP.
The port authority has proposed a compromise in the form of dredging an alternative route to the port across the Venice lagoon which avoids the Giudeca canal, partly following a route taken by cargo ships to the mainland port of Marghera, with the plan to be discussed on Thursday in Rome at a meeting between ministers and port managers, held in response to growing alarm in Venice.
Mr Testa said the cruise ships should be kept out of the lagoon altogether, or substituted with smaller boats, adding, “One hundred years ago, the average depth of the lagoon was 40cm, but thanks to shipping it has been getting deeper ever since, so it now has the ecosystem of a sea bay, not a lagoon”.
What do you think? Have you sailed into Venice on a cruise ship and do you think that cruise ships should be allowed to sail the current route on the Giudeca canal across St Marks Square?