First post-COVID cruise ship leaves Venice amid protest

The first cruise ship to leave Venice since coronavirus restrictions were eased set sail on Saturday, but some local residents protested the return to normal and were unhappy with giant liners passing through the historic lagoon city.

Hundreds of people gathered ashore and small boats with waving flags reading “No Big Ships” surrounded and followed the 92,000-ton MSC orchestra as it left the port of Venice en route to Croatia and Greece.

“We are here because we are against this passage, but also against a tourism model that is destroying the city, displacing its inhabitants, destroying the planet and cities and polluting the environment,” said Marta Sottoriva, a 29-year-old teacher and Venice Residents.

However, port authorities, workers and the city government welcomed the departure of the MSC Cruises-operated orchestra and saw it as a symbol of the start of business in the wake of the health crisis that has hit the cruise industry and the entire travel sector hard.

“We are happy to be back … to start the engines again. Venice is very important to us and we have been asking for a stable and manageable solution for ships for many years,” said Francesco Galietti, national director of the Cruise Lines trading group International Association (CLIA).

Some residents have been calling on governments for years to ban large cruise lines and other large ships from crossing the lagoon and berthing not far from famous St. Mark’s Square.

Activists worry about safety and the environment, including pollution and underwater erosion, in a city already at risk from rising seawater.

“The fight is very long, I think we are against very big financial interests,” said Marco Baravalle, a 42-year-old researcher and member of the No Grandi Navi group.

He and other protesters worried that “everything will go back to what we had before the pandemic,” he added.

The Italian government decided in April that cruise ships and container ships would not be allowed to enter Venice’s old town, but would be allowed to dock elsewhere.

However, the ban will only come into force once the terminals outside the lagoon have been completed and a tender for their construction has not yet been launched. From next year some of the traffic could be diverted to the nearby port of Marghera.


The orchestra was escorted out of the harbor not only by protesting small ships, but also by tugs who greeted it with splashes of water, a maritime tradition reserved for special occasions.

The 16-deck ship can carry over 3,000 passengers and 1,000 crew members, but will only operate at half capacity for this trip due to COVID-19 social distancing rules.

“It is an important day for us, for 4,000 workers and many others who work in this industry. We are starting again after more than 17 months, finally there is light at the end of the tunnel,” said Alessandro Santi, President of the Federlogisticaica Group.

He said the port community is in favor of the bans, but given the importance of tourism to the city, alternatives need to be found.

The CLIA estimates that the cruise business accounts for more than 3% of Venice’s GDP.

“Venice is where many travel routes start and end, the economic impact on Venice is enormous,” said Galietti. “If Venice is cut off the itineraries, the entire Adriatic (sea) will have the consequences … it would be a huge impact.”

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