”Work! Work! Work!” On the steps of Santa Lucia Central Railway Station in Venice, baggage handlers, ship cleaners, and dock security guards were shouting. The demonstration was organized quickly and happened without warning-a group of “flash mobs” planned and quickly gained attention for the 6000 Venetians who depended on the cruise ship industry for employment.
This year, international travel restrictions caused by the novel coronavirus epidemic are forcing companies to delay most tour groups until 2021. This means that the huge ships that usually moor behind the historic bell tower and church in Venice are invisible during this time. Environmental advocates welcome this change. They have been calling for Venice to ban cruise business for years to reduce pollution and damage to the city’s already fragile basic industries.
As the city traditionally described as “La Serenissima (the most peaceful)”, Venice is no longer the “most peaceful” place; according to the Green Initiative, the Transport and Environment Federation, it is now more like the most polluted European city. Serious port. Proponents of the cruise industry say that the Italian government in Rome must now make long-term plans-such as setting up a new cruise ship docking station outside of the Venice Lagoon, so as to protect the city and ensure the future of the cruise industry in this region.
A large cruise ship can be seen at the end of a narrow canal in Venice
Antonio Valleca is a janitor for luggage at the port of Venice, a luggage storage company. This company has been serving tourists for the past 80 years, sending their luggage from the ship to the hotel in Venice. “When the new crown epidemic is over, we need to bring the cruise ship back to Venice,” he said. “This is the time for the government to make a decision.” The cruise ship will instead stop at the port of Ravenna, 150 kilometers to the south. Passengers who want to go to Venice will take a bus from there. The demonstrators said that the cruise ship may be permanently transferred to the port of Genoa or Trieste. “We are really worried that you can see a large cruise ship at the end of a narrow canal in Venice,” Valleka said.
Fladimiro Tomasini, the baggage manager who led the latest demonstration, said that the workers he represents are tired of waiting for government action. “We are here today to protest because we have been waiting for a solution to the prospects of the cruise industry in Venice for eight years,” he said. “We require cruise tourism to be compatible with the structure of our city and lagoon, and we now require the government to give an answer.”
Cruise ship industry workers call on the government to make immediate decisions on the future of the port of Venice
Posters have recently been posted on some walls in Venice, claiming that the new crown epidemic is related to cruise ships
A bookstore in Venice hangs a “no big boat” flag
Environmental activist Sophia Demasi: “Venice without cruise ships is a different place, and we are very happy.”
Eight years ago, an Italian cruise ship, Costa Concorde, collapsed and sank off the coast of Tuscany after a reef accident. 33 people died. The accident prompted the Italian authorities to introduce a new bill that banned the largest cruise ships from Venice (over 96,000 tons), and smaller ships were restricted to five shifts a day, but the bill was repealed shortly after the appeal. Last summer, the conflict on this issue reappeared. The 6-ton Opera cruise ship lost control and crashed into a pier in Venice and hit a yacht. Two passengers were injured. The mobile phone video of the accident showed that while the horn of the ship was blowing, passers-by were shouting “Retreat!” and ran away from the 13-story ship that rushed over.
But despite the increasing pressure, the city authorities and the national government in Rome still failed to make plans for the future of the cruise industry, and the local opinions in Venice remained polarized. Opponents of the cruise industry say that the global pandemic has shown what the future can look like if cruise ships are permanently banned.
On the same day port workers protested on the train station steps, a climate camp was being held in an abandoned industrial zone in Magra, a 20-minute drive from Venice, across the bridge. Banners calling for an end to the use of fossil fuels hung on the wall of a large warehouse, where young people listened to speakers calling for climate justice. A flag that read “no gradi navi” was flying outside the camp.
Environmental activist Sophia Demasi is a member of the “No Grandi Navi” committee and a member of the international climate movement organization “Fridays For Future”. “Big cruise ships have caused a lot of pollution and a lot of problems in a city. This city should not be a sample of the climate crisis, but a model for fighting the crisis,” she said.
Carnival Cruise Line’s 145,000-ton Pocahontas Princess was recently delivered by the Italian shipbuilding company Fincantieri
”No Grandi Navi” leader Tommaso Kachiari said that in addition to pollution, these ships are also destroying the foundations of the city-it causes underwater waves and erosion. “The stones in Venice are not concrete. They are not glued together with cement. It is fixed together with mud and water. These substances flow very easily,” he said. “So this will cause the erosion of the urban geological structure, which is a big problem.”
However, environmentalists are facing the cruise industry that has political ties with those in power. This is a difficult advocacy movement. Italy also has the Fincantieri Group, the world’s largest shipbuilding company. Last month, the company launched a newest ship type-a 145,000-ton giant ship called “Princess Romance”, which was ordered by the world’s largest cruise company, Carnival Cruise Line.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte sent his congratulations via video message. Arnold Donald, CEO of Carnival Cruise Line, attended the ceremony via a video link from Florida. “We are facing extremely difficult times in our industry,” he told the social distancing crowd at the Fincantine Group’s shipyard in Monfalcone. “We thank you, the Prime Minister, and your government for your continuous support.”
Donald said that Carnival Cruise Line is one of the largest foreign investors in the Italian economy, noting that Carnival Cruise Line has produced products in Fincantieri over the past 30 years. 30 billion euros were invested on the ship. “Gathering here today, so that we can feel this happiness well, sea voyage brings millions of guests every year,” he said.
”This also reminds us that a large number of people rely on the maritime industry for their occupations and livelihoods.”
It is not clear who will win this debate about the future of the cruise industry in Venice, but pressure for the authorities to make a decision is accumulating. This year, visitors who can come to Venice will have the opportunity to see the city as it was before the cruise ship arrived.
”If you walk around the canal now, you will see the difference. Without cruise ships, Venice is a different place, and we are very happy,” Sophia Demasi said.