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I’ve dug up some further information about the recent accident in Venice, and also some suggestions as to why nothing has happened about this issue over the last two years.

First, it does now appear that the ship, MSC Opera, suffered some failure of the engine management system as a result of which it was not possible to control the engines. Unfortunately at the time the engines were stuck in the ‘On’ position, or became stuck in it, and this resulted in the crash. There is also a report about the actions that were taken by the ship and the tugs. There’s a suggestions that two anchors were lowered, though it’s not clear if these were on the Opera or on a tug or tugs. Finally, there’s confirmation that in trying to slow or stop the Opera, the tugs put so much so pressure on a line to the ship that it broke.

Now onto the politics. As I said in an earlier post, there is a proposal to have cruise ships approach the city along the shore of the mainland towards the industrial port of Maghera, then divert eastwards straight to the existing cruise terminal. In order to achieve this a new deep water passage would need to be dredged in the Vittorio Emanuelle III channel, which is the stretch of water running broadly north to south between the mainland and historic Venice. So far no progress has been made on this work, and there’s a report that this may be due to political disagreements. Italy’s government is a coalition between different parties. A deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini (of the League party) blamed the Five Star Movement for rejecting the plan. For its part, the Five Star Movement, which is part of the governing coalition along with the League party, responded that it had not received any proposals to consider. This one will clearly run and run…..

Next, the protests. Some thousands of people demonstrated against the cruise ships over the weekend. This is nothing new in and of itself, but of course on this occasion there was a cause for the demonstration – the crash on 2 June. The demonstrations will not in themselves achieve anything; indeed, my personal feeling is that part of the reason for the hostility to the cruise ships is the feeling of powerlessness on the part of ordinary Venetians. I gather that ‘Venice’ is simply part of a larger municipality, most of which is based on the mainland and therefore Venice’s concerns can (and do) get lost when being considered by that authority; and additionally the cruise port is part of another authority which doesn’t answer to the municipality anyway! No wonder that people are protesting; and the cruise ships are the obvious target.

It’s sometimes difficult to understand what the protesters are protesting about. Cruise ships, yes, but while some are protesting on the grounds of damage to the structure of Venice, others are protesting about the aesthetics of the ships passing along the Giudecca channel while yet others are protesting about the  environmental sustainability of cruise ships in general. Most protesters are unhappy about the sheer numbers of tourists in Venice, while another strand is the issue of depopulation – in the immediate post-war period there were more than 150,000 inhabitants while today it’s less than 50,000. (Though I’d be interested to learn more about the housing conditions in 1945.)

I have also seen some figures that suggest that cruise passengers make up less than 5% of the visitors to Venice. However, these were quoted by someone with skin in the game – the manager of the cruise terminal, in fact – so (as with almost everything in this argument) you can’t be certain about them. I almost think that the best thing to do would indeed be for there to be a year without cruise ships, and see what happens. My suspicion is that no-one would actually notice – the Piazza San Marco would still be insanely crowded and it would still be standing room only on the vaporettos. But at least things would be clearer.

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