Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Anti-Cruise Ship Demonstration in Venice - September 16, 2012

Photo: Arved Gintenreiter
(Venice, Italy) There was a festive atmosphere when I arrived at the demonstration against the cruise ships here in Venice at the Punta della Dogana on Sunday, September 16, 2012 a bit before 3PM. During the Venetian Republic, the Punta della Dogana was the customs house, holding precious cargo from all over the world that arrived by sea. These days it is owned by billionaire Frenchman Francois Pinault, and contains contemporary art exhibits.

 Photo: Arved Gintenreiter
On Sunday, the tip of the triangle at the Dogana was crowded with locals and over 100 bicyclists (and their bikes) who joined the protest from the mainland, in addition to curiosity-seekers who bought up home-made sandwiches and red "No Grandi Navi" tee-shirts. Aretha Franklin belted out "All I want is a little respect" over the loudspeakers. A flotilla of small boats -- many of which contained children -- decked out with "No Grandi Navi" flags and colorful balloons bobbed in the lagoon, surrounded by a strong police presence.

An article entitled Venice Rebels Against Cruise Ship Invasions written by Colleen Barry for the Associated Press on February 5, 2012, gives a good summary of the situation:

If the cruise ships were modern buildings, which they strongly resemble, they would certainly not be allowed in Venice, a UNESCO heritage site that mandates the view of protected places cannot be permanently altered. But because they move, there is no official sanction against them.

 ...Even before the Concordia disaster, Venice Mayor Giorgio Orsoni and the chief port official signed an agreement for new studies on alternative routes — but passenger terminal officials believe that passing by St. Mark's is a key attraction.

Francesco Bandarin, UNESCO's assistant director-general for culture — and a Venetian himself — said longer-term solutions are needed.

"The city is a very fragile city. This is a city that comes to us from the Middle Ages," Bandarin said. "It is not designed for having that kind of traffic. It is designed to have ships, and we will always have ships around Venice, but not these kind of ships."

Photo: Arved Gintenreiter
In March of this year, a ministerial decree was passed making it a crime for ships that weigh more than 40,000 tons to sail too close to the Palazzo Ducale, the ancient palace of the Doge, but that law has been suspended until an alternate solution can be found.

There were three cruise ships that were due to leave Venice on Sunday: the 3,000-passenger Costa Fascinosa, 1,712-passenger MSC Opera and 2,536-passenger MSC Musica, which were delayed by the flotilla of small boats. From USA Today:

The protest is just the latest from groups arguing that the growth of large cruise ships visiting Venice in recent years has had a negative impact on the destination.

Cruise ships sailing into and out of Venice pass within yards of the city's famed Piazza San Marco, a route critics say is risky due to the possibility of environmental damage or an accident impacting historical treasures. The criticism has grown louder since the Costa Concordia accident off the coast of Italy earlier this year.
Berlusconi boards MCS Divine
The day before, former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi himself -- who, in his youth, had a job as a singer on a cruise ship -- and a group of supporters cruised out of Venice on the MCS Divina, the largest ship to ever enter the lagoon, on a trip sponsored by the conservative newspaper Il Giornale, which is owned by the Berluscoi family. Apparently, Berlusconi is contemplating whether to run for office again. From Reuters on September 15, 2012:

Speaking to reporters in Venice where he was preparing to board a cruise ship, the 75-year-old media magnate said his decision would depend on "the conditions that emerge, and what the electoral law will be."

One of the protestors' slogans was: STOP THE RAPE. Nearly every day up to nine monstrous cruise ships ram themselves through the fragile Giudecca Canal, forcing the narrow passage to accommodate their intimidating presence. The enormous ships gang-bang Venice, leaving behind a pornographic wake. Every ship that passes through the Giudecca Canal rips through the souls of the Venetians. Venetians are connected to the water, and to the lagoon, which is sacred and part of the culture. The locals witness the abuse of their city, and are trying to save her. They are behaving like any one of us would behave if we were forced to witness the repeated abuse of someone we love.

Photo: Arved Gintenreiter
I have been following the debate, and it seems that what the Venetians are asking is that a different berth for the ships be found immediately; that a ban on all ships of more than 40,000 tons be enacted immediately; that the impact of the cruise ships on the health of the local popluation be studied; that the air quality be monitored; that a daily quota of tourists be established; that the tourism be wise, controlled and regulated, and have a light foot inside the ancient city, benefiting everyone, not just a few. From a July 17, 2012 piece in The Guardian:

A ministerial decree was issued in March banning ships over 40,000 tonnes from sailing too close to the Doge's Palace, but it will only come into force once an alternative solution has been found. "All the authorities – the harbour master, the ministry of public works, the province, the municipality – are all putting the responsibility on someone else," says the senator for Venice, Felice Casson.

Increasing numbers of ships are mooring in the port, at the end of the Grand Canal. "The two or three big cruise operators which control international business have massive clout," says Francesco Bandarin, Unesco assistant director general for culture.

The head of the local council, Giorgio Orsoni, worries about "the damage to the city's foundations from ships passing through the Giudeccia canal, only 10 metres deep. The water they displace acts as a pump for the seabed, shaking even the San Marco basilica".

"We are victims of the state," Orsoni adds. "The San Marco basin is state property … The big cruise ships deal with the port authorities who report to central government. [The ships] pay €40,000 ($49,000) each time they moor, with 3,500 calls a year, but Venice gets nothing out of it. The 2 million passengers who disembark spend very little, maybe just buying a drink."

 Photo: Arved Gintenreiter
It is difficult to find accurate information and actual statistics of the impact the cruise ship industry is having on Venice. Are Venetian businesses benefiting at all? Or is the money all going to the State and special interest groups? I did find a December 17, 2010 report by the Worcester Polytechnic Institute entitled Cruise Control that said more research was needed, and stated:

To fully assess the impact cruise ships have on mobility, WHERE (emphasis mine) the passengers are going after they disembarck (sic) needs to be determined. Many of the ships are turnaround so the passengers are often not going into the city of Venice but rather to the airport or the train station.  

If that is so, then why not put the dock for the cruise ships someplace where it doesn't create so much damage? Then provide quick, easy transportation for those individuals who are getting off the boat and going to other destinations.

La pescheria vecchia by Ettore Tito, 1893
Personally, I find it unimaginable to come all the way to Venice and not get a glimpse of some of the gems she has to offer. Create small boat tours that do not impact the environment for those who want to drive-by Palazzo Ducale without putting their feet on the stones. Create hotel/tour packages for those people who want to visit the magnificent city of Venice the way she should be seen. Introduce educated travelers to local cuisine, shops and products. But don't drive an enormous condominium through an ancient city leaving damage in your wake. And it's not only the Giudecca Canal. They were going to try to force the ancient fish market to move out of Venice to make way for more cruise ships until there was a major uproar to stop that.

It is a miracle that the city of Venice still exists in the year 2012. The architects who designed its glorious structures were geniuses, but even they could not imagine what impact a barrage of cruise ships 500, 1000 years in the future would have and plan accordingly. Venice's delicate infrastructure should be preserved, not destroyed. From a January 20, 2012 Daily Beast article entitled Italy's Cruise Ship Disaster has Highlighted the Threat the Ships Pose to Venice by Manfred Manera:

It’s not just the risk of collisions that makes the passage of the mega-ships through Venice dangerous. These ships use a polluting sort of bunkerfuel, which is harmful to the lungs of the city’s inhabitants. The fuel’s sulphuric content also contributes to the corrosion of the stones of Venice’s monuments. The passage of each of these ships through Venice produces exhaust equivalent to the fumes of 14,000 cars or 2,000 trucks. The San Marco basin is on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. Would UNESCO allow this kind of traffic through the Valley of the Kings in Egypt or through the middle of Pompeii? I asked this question of Engelbert Ruoss, head of the Venice UNESCO branch. “Certainly not,” he said. “But as strange as it may sound the criteria are enforced in a much stricter way with the new sites on the World Heritage List, in developing nations, rather than with the old ones of the developed world, like in Italy or Spain.”

Church of Redentore, 1592-Giudecca Canal
I took a peek on the Cruise Critic message boards, where cruisers themselves were discussing the topic. They seemed to be very reasonable, and had no problem with changing where the cruise ships dock or they way they approach Venice from the water. They said it was enough to be in Venice, and that there are other ports that are not inside the main attraction. They also said there were other ways to get to Venice than by ship. 

Roberto Perocchio, the managing director of Venice Terminal Passegeri, said, "We need the city to understand that we can’t take the risk of investing precious funds if the city is not committed to cruising." I think the city would be more understanding if the cruise ships took their very valid concerns seriously. The Venetians have better things to do than fight with the cruise ships.Venice is so unique that people will always find a way to get here. Why not work with the Venetians instead of antagonizing them? Why not make the cruise ships a lucrative, thriving business that is welcomed instead of despised? Why not respect the lagoon and share the wealth? Why not practice sustainable tourism rather than squeezing the life out of the town?

Photo: Arved Gintenreiter
I left the peaceful, cheerful protest after about an hour, which seemed more like a Venetian party than a demonstration. I had spoken to the police when I arrived, and asked if the protest was legal, and they said yes, that the organizers had all the proper permits, and that as long as they stayed within the regulations, the demonstration was legal. So I didn't witness what happened later on in the evening. Apparently there are disputes about the intentions of a low-flying police helicopter which scared the little boats and flew so low they were sprayed with water, and other confrontations. On the other side, there is talk about charges being filed against the protesters by DIGOS, which is a special division of the Polizia di Stato, or the Federal Police, who investigate terrorism and organized crime. The protesters find the idea of a "suicide boater" laughable. But all in all, it was a successful, peaceful protest. No one got hurt; the police were reasonable, and the cruise ships were delayed for about three hours. The protesters are confident that enough people witnessed and documented the event so that the truth will come out. Here is a YouTube clip from their point of view:

Here is an amateur YouTube clip of what Venice looks like from the cruise ship point of view:

And here is what a passing cruise ship looks like from a pedestrian point of view:

Ciao from Venezia
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog


  1. There was a festive atmosphere when I arrived at the demonstration against the cruise ships here in Venice at the Punta della Dogana on Sunday, September 16, 2012 a bit before 3PM.

  2. It's crazy that the government takes all the money from docking ships and doesn't put it back into the community?!

  3. Unfortunate big cruise ships like those in the photos damage the city and the Lagoon by creating huge waves.

  4. The cruise ship looks like a sky scraper floating by. Jarring.

  5. Nice working on this blog. please do update some thing about Yacht Rental in Dubai

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