The first cruise ship set sail from Venice on Saturday, after nearly 1.5 years since the outbreak of the coronavirus. Local residents are unhappy about the passage of giant liners through the historic lagoon city and gathered in protest over the return to normal.
As the 92,000-tonne MSC Orchestra set sail from Venice port on its journey to Croatia and Greece, hundred of people got together on land and small boats following the cruise liner with fluttering flags saying “No big ships”.
However, the departure of the ship was welcomed by port authorities, staffs and the city government who saw it as a symbol of hope for business kicking off after the health crisis that hit hard at the travel industry.
“We are happy to be back… to restart the engines. We care a lot about Venice and we’ve been asking for a stable and manageable solution for ships for many years,” said Francesco Galietti, national director for the trade group Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).
For years now, a few residents have been urging governments to prohibit large cruise liners from passing through the lagoon and docking close to the famed St. Mark’s Square. Campaigners are concerned about safety and the environment, including pollution and underwater erosion in a city already in peril from rising sea waters.
The MSC ship was ushered outside the port not only by small vessels protesting but also by tugboats that saluted it with water sprays, a sea tradition reserved for special occasions.
Due to social distancing regulations, the 16-deck ship which carry over 3,000 passengers and 1,000 crew set sail with only half capacity. Alessandro Santi, chairman of the Federlogistica business group said, “It’s an important day for us, for 4,000 workers and many others who work in this sector. We are starting again after over 17 months, finally there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
He added that the port community favoured the bans but substitutes have to be found given the importance of tourism for Venice. According to the CLIA, the cruise industry is said to represent over 3% of Venice’s GDP.
“Venice is where many itineraries begin or end, the economic impact on Venice is huge,” said Galietti. “If Venice is taken off the itineraries all the Adriatic (Sea) will suffer the consequences … it would be a huge impact.”
In April, Italy’s government ruled that cruise ships and container vessels would not be allowed to enter Venice’s historic centre, but rather dock elsewhere. The ban however, will not be put into effect until terminals outside the lagoon are completed, and a tender for their construction has not been launched yet. Starting next year, a part of the traffic may be diverted to the nearby port of Marghera.
Also Read: Venice Bans Cruise Liners From Its Lagoons