Venetians ramp up campaign to say ‘no' to big ships

A cruise ship crashed into a dock in Venice on June 2 (left); a “No to Big Ships” protest in September 2018 (right).
A cruise ship crashed into a dock in Venice on June 2 (left); a “No to Big Ships” protest in September 2018 (right).

The cruise liner crash in Venice on June 2 was yet another reminder for local residents that large vessels do not belong in the lagoon city.

The 13-deck MSC-Opera crashed into a dock and a tourist boat in a canal, leaving five injured. Now activists are rallying to prevent further accidents in the historic city. A protest held on June 8 drew nearly 6,000 residents.

"Ships need to adapt to the lagoon, not vice versa”

Tommaso Cacciari, a spokesman for the Venice-based group "No Big Ships", called for a ban on cruise liners in the lagoon.

People could have died! It’s proof that these cruise ships are much too big for Venice. The accident showed the entire world that these ships are not safe enough and that nothing can stop a 65,000-tonne vessel.

Our town is too precious to be destroyed by these cruise ships. They should stay outside of the lagoon. We need a port outside the city, and people can then take smaller boats into the city. Ships need to adapt to the lagoon, not vice versa.

Cruise ships are technically banned from entering the lagoon under a 2012 ordinance, but, with no other alternative, they have continued to dock there. In 2017, authorities considered banning ships over 55,000 tonnes from entering the Giudecca Canal, where the accident took place, but the project never came to fruition.  

Venice mayor Luigi Brugnaro has since called for the construction of a new cruise terminal outside of the town centre, which would require the Vittorio Emanuele Canal to be widened. Cacciari said the proposal was not enough.

The mayor just wants the international community to think that he is looking for a solution. Vittorio Emanuele Canal runs along the Marghera industrial zone, all the way to the dock where the June 2 accident took place. So the cruise ships would continue to pass through the lagoon, just a few dozen metres from our homes. We don't want the ships to enter the lagoon at all.

Under the mayor's proposal, cruise liners and industrial ships would likely use the same waterway, potentially accelerating the rate of erosion in the foundations of the Doge’s Palace and opening up further risks of flooding.

"Next time, they'll come by train!"

Cacciari said he hoped the accident would draw further attention to the group's demands. 

We try to block the cruise ships from docking by jumping in the water, or head out to meet them in small boats and make a lot of noise, until the police make us leave. We hope that when passengers see us, they'll be forced to reflect on this issue and maybe next time they'll come to Venice by train.

Activists also point to the environmental impact of the cruise liners. A recent report by Transport and Environment, a European NGO, showed that ships operated by Carnival Corporation emitted ten times more sulphur oxide along the European coast than all the cars in Europe combined in 2017.

This story was written by Pierre Hamdi.