Venice residents versus the giant cruise ships

Venice: its canals, its gondolas, its historic buildings… and, looming over all this (quite literally), its giant cruise ships. Several of these behemoths pass through Venice every day, eliciting the ire of many local residents, including our Observer.


A cruise ship passing through Venice. Screen capture from video below.


Venice: its canals, its gondolas, its historic buildings… and, looming over all this (quite literally), its giant cruise ships. Several of these behemoths pass through Venice every day, eliciting the ire of many local residents.


Between 1997 and 2012, the number of cruise ships going through Venice shot up from 206 to 661 per year, with a 2.5% increase expected in 2013. Last year, they carried more than 1,775,000 tourists down the city’s Giudecca canal, by far its largest, which offers a prime view of Saint Mark’s Place. Though the government issued a decree last year forbidding ships over 40,000 tonnes from using the Giudecca canal, it has been ignored by port authorities, who argue that these cruise liners present no security risk and are a boon to the local economy. According to the Cruise Venice Committee, a pro-ship lobby made up of tourism professionals, cruise passengers spend almost 150 million euros per year in the city.


Anti-cruise ship Venitians worry that their city may be turning into a sort of Disneyland or Las Vegas. Photo published on No Grandi Navi's blog.


Faced with repeated protests from local residents, as well as criticism from UNESCO and from Italy’s environment minister, local authorities are now considering several alternatives, including the possibility of making cruise ships dock at Marghera port, which is located in the Venice lagoon but further from the city. They are scheduled to make a decision in early October.


A video made by protesters showing cruise ships in Venice.

“These ships eclipse the sun!”

Tommaso Cacciari lives in Venice, where he was born. He belongs to the No Grandi Navi (“No Big Ships”) movement.


The tallest buildings in Venice are about 14 metres high, and these ships are 60 or 70 metres high. When they pass through the canal, they eclipse the sun, and we find ourselves in the shadows. Since they’ve got discotheques on board, they create a lot of noise, too.


But of course my issue with the ships goes well beyond these inconveniences. They cause many other problems. First, there’s the air pollution. Ships burn heavy fuel. When they come into Venice – where they stop for several hours – they don’t cut their engines, because they have to keep all the restaurants, shops, etc powered. This causes dark plumes of smoke to drape over a large part of the city.


A ship passing through the city.


Another worry is that when the ships are stopped, people who live near the deck report that their Internet goes out, and that they suddenly no longer get many of their TV channels. We worry that this might be due to the ships’ radars, and the effect they could also have on our bodies.


"No Big Ships" protest both on land and in the water on June 9, 2013.


“Every time a big ship goes by, it digs into the lagoon, making it deeper and deeper”


Then, there is the effect on the city’s structure itself. When these ships sail by, they move a huge amount of water. This mass of water pushes against the city’s foundations, and sucks out the mud and sand that helps keep the old stones together. This is causing degradation to the city’s fragile buildings. And every time a big ship goes by, it also digs into the lagoon, making it deeper and deeper. [Each year, the lagoon loses between 750,000 and 1 million tons of sediment]. A deep lagoon, of course, doesn’t offer as much protection from the sea and high tide. [The authorities are currently building a huge dam system to stave off flooding.]


Protesters block the canal on September 21. 


Finally, people here worry about the possibility of an accident. We’re told that a disaster like the Costa Concordia can’t happen in Venice, because we don’t have rocks. Well, OK, we don’t have rocks, but we have our houses… Then, some say, OK, but the Costa Concordia had a very bad captain, and here in Venice, ships are guided by smaller ships from the port. But in Genoa, a cruise ship that was being guided out of the port still managed to crash into an observation tower, killing seven people


“The benefits are negligible compared the costs”


Compared to the costs, the benefits of these ships is negligible – the ships pay the port authority for the right to sail through, but this money goes to the state, not to the city of Venice. And they only stay a couple of hours, with the majority of tourists enjoying the view from on board, so I believe the tourism revenue generated simply isn’t worth it. We already have plenty enough tourists in Venice!


To denounce all this, we’ve held multiple protests over the past year and a half. We’ve had sit-ins, boat-ins [where local residents’ boats block the canal], and have even blocked ships by swimming out into the canal. We’ve been taken to court for our actions. But most people in Venice are on our side [12,400 residents have signed an anti-big ship petition thus far; the city has about 58, 000 inhabitants]. I have no doubt that we will soon get the ships to sail further away from the city.


Some particularly ticked-off protesters give a passing cruise ship the bird.