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Two million tourists arrived in Venice by cruise ship last year, entering and leaving via the Giudecca Canal, a body of water that skirts the Grand Canal and separates the island of Giudecca from Venice proper.
The recent death of a German tourist, who was crushed by a vaporetto (water bus) whilst travelling on a gondola with his family, has put the spotlight on Venice’s congested waterways and re-ignited the debate about whether cruise ships should be allowed to plough through the heart of the World Heritage city.
Multi-deck passenger ships reduce the ancient city to Lilliputian proportions, an image that local pressure groups say “Disneyfies” Venice and environmentalists claim the wake caused by mega-tonne vessels contributes towards erosion of the city’s age-old foundations.
Current cruise routes are strictly defined, but last month a course taken by Carnival Sunshine saw the ship cruise perilously close to a vaporetto some 20 metres from the waterfront at Riva dei Sette Martiri, just beyond St Mark’s Square. Carnival has since defended the captain’s actions.
Matteo Secchi, spokesperson for local pressure group venessia.com, acknowledges the role cruising plays in the local economy but says common sense must prevail. “We are not against cruise ships but we want to preserve Venice and need to find a satisfactory solution for everyone,” he said. “All we ask is that cruise lines do not enter the San Marco basin.”
CLIA insists there is “no scientific evidence to prove that cruise ships displace water in Venice because of the slow speeds at which the ships travel,” but agrees the volume of cruise traffic using the current navigational route – there were 1,280 cruise calls at the port last year – is unsustainable.
“We have recognised the need to move away from current navigational routes for some time but there were no alternatives in place,” said CLIA secretary general for Europe, Robert Ashdown.
Ashdown said discussions with the cruise industry are now coming to a head. “We attended a meeting in July at which five viable proposals were developed. A report on these proposals is expected mid-October, when the environment minister will announce his decision. By the end of the year we expect to see a long-term sustainable plan for cruise ships to Venice put in place.”
In Venice a host of environmental and operational issues comes into play. Among the alternatives is a route in the Contorta channel behind the Giudecca which would require minimal dredging and allow continued use of the Venice passenger terminal’s existing facilities. A docking facility at Lido has been mooted and a third option would be for ships to enter Venice via the south lagoon and dock at Marghera, an industrial zone that houses a commercial port. Transfer time for cruise passengers to Piazzale Roma would be 10-15 minutes.
“It is not just an issue of transfer time,” says Ashdown. The IMO (International Maritime Organisation) wants passenger and commercial ports need to be kept separate and any blockage of the causeway between the port and Venice would have huge implications for cruise lines.”
Ashdown said it is impossible to say when a new navigational route will become operational but in a city whose newest bridge, the Calatrava, opened years behind schedule and was dogged by controversy one can only hope that plans come to fruition sooner rather than later and that this summer’s death in Venice will be the last.