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    The menace of Venice? Campaigners picket cruise ship they claim is too big for Italian lagoon city


    Italian protesters have called on screen legend Sophia Loren to renounce her role as Godmother to the 140,000 tonne MSC Divinia after it became the largest cruise ship ever to visit Venice.

    Campaigners who claim large cruise ships block and ruin the views in the lagoon city as well as polluting the air, gathered to greet the enormous liner as it docked on Saturday, carrying signs which read 'No Big ships'.

    The ship, which can carry more than 4,500 people, was named in honour of and christened by Ms Loren last month in Marseille.

    But the No Big Ships Venice Committee, which staged the protest on Saturday, has written to Ms Loren calling on her to ditch her endorsement of the monster ship.

    The group wrote: 'We can't believe that you want your name, which is a legend in Italy and the world, to be associated with a ship that contributes to the destruction of Venice, part of humanity's heritage.

    'We are asking you to give up your role as godmother of the ship. Venice and the world would see that as a divine gesture. Venice belongs to the world. Help us save it.'

    The letter also said that big ships pollute the air and their vibrations and the lapping waves caused by the wakes of their passage hurt the foundations of historic palaces and churches.

    The protesters wrote: 'Venice and its lagoon are both world heritage sites and risk an environmental disaster every day because of the passage of these monsters of the sea.'

    Environmentalists have stepped up their efforts to have large cruise ships banned from the lagoon which surrounds the historic centre of the canal city ever since the Costa Concordia disaster in January.

    The stricken ship capsized off the coast of the Tuscan island of Giglio after it hit rocks, killing at least 30 people and leaving two unaccounted for.

    The disaster has put the spotlight on vulnerable sites visited by major cruise liners and Venice is known as one of Italy's most delicate maritime area.

    Big cruise ships enter the city to drop off passengers conveniently close to the historic centre and the Grand Canal.

    Italia Nostra (Our Italy), the country's leading conservation group has also long opposed the entry of large cruise ships into the lagoon.

    The Divina has a first-class suite named after Loren which is decorated with large pictures of the Oscar-winning actress at various stages of her film career.

    The liner, which is 330m long and features 1,739 cabins, has a top traveling speed of 23.7 knots.

    On board the luxurious new ship there are lifts for passengers, an infinity pool, restaurants, casino and disco.

    Silvio Testa, the campaign group's spokesman, told The Independent his biggest concern was pollution from the huge vessel.

    He said: 'This thing produces the same amount of pollution in an hour as 15,000 cars.'

    Following the Concordia disaster the Italian government banned the close approach of vessels weighing more than 40,000 tonnes.

    But liner companies taking passengers to Venice are able to get around the ban because alternative routes in and out of the main port do not exist.

    By Lawrence Conway, Mail Online

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