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Venice looks to calm cruise ship waves

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Officials Aim to Come Up With Proposals by Late July for Rerouting Cruise Ships From City Center

VENICE—On a recent day here, a half-dozen giant cruise ships sidled by St. Mark's Square as they entered the famed Giudecca Canal, offering their 35,000 passengers a thrilling, up-close view of one of Europe's architectural treasures.

But the rising traffic has raised serious concerns about the pollution that the ships—branded "floating skyscrapers" by opponents—bring to the lagoon, and about potential damage from their heavy wakes to the delicate foundations of the majestic, waterside buildings.

After protesters in small boats recently tried to block the mastodonic ships from entering the canal, government officials last week agreed to open talks on rerouting the cruises away from the fragile city center, with the aim of presenting proposals by late July.

"They are awful," says Cristina Beltrami, 40, an art historian living in Venice. "I understand that it's wonderful to see St. Mark's Square from the deck of these monsters, but they are just too big."

Yet over the past decade, the surge in cruise tourism has proved an economic boon to Venice, which is now the most popular stop on the Mediterranean cruise circuit and the home port—where trips start and end—for many routes.

About 1.8 million cruise tourists passed through Venice last year, compared with just 337,000 in 2000. More than 650 cruise liners, which can be nearly 1,000 feet long and weigh 100,000 tons, docked in the city last year.

Indeed, some locals are worried about losing the clients that the big ships bring.

"Venice is a city of merchants," said Alessandro Stanziani, 69, who owns a restaurant near St. Mark's Square. "When cruise liners don't come through, we notice the decline in business a lot."

Nevertheless, opposition has intensified, especially after the Costa Concordia, a cruise ship run by Costa Crociere, ran aground off the Tuscan shore in January 2012, killing at least 30 people. That giant hulk is still stranded in the shallow waters there.

Venetians fret about the possibility of a similar disaster involving the cruise liners that pass about 300 meters 1,000 feet from St. Mark's Square and through the canal to dock at the passenger port, located inside the Venetian lagoon.

Following the Costa disaster, the Italian government banned large ships from getting too close to the coast, but granted an exception for Venice until an alternative route could be found.

The cruise operators say that they already take extra precautions when navigating around Venice. For instance, they use cleaner fuels when they approach the city and are pulled by tugboats once they get close to the center.

"Safeguarding Venice was a longtime commitment for Costa even before the Giglio accident," Tom Strang, a senior vice president at Costa Crociere, said by email.

Earlier this month protesters launched their latest volley, with about 2,000 people turning out to try to block access to the ships, brandishing colorful banners saying "No Big Ships."

"God knows why they are still allowed to pass through the canal," said Silvio Testa, spokesman for the organizers of the demonstration.

In response, officials and cruise operators last week agreed to begin consultations to find a way to reroute boats weighing more than 40,000 tons away from the current St. Mark's route. Their goal is to have alternatives ready to present to government officials in Rome at a meeting set for July 25.

But it won't be simple.

Proposals to build offshore tourist terminals that would keep the boats outside the lagoon are costly and would take years. Just dredging a new approach to the current passenger terminal that avoids the Giudecca Canal—the Venetian port authority's preferred option—would cost around €120 million and take about a year.

A short-term fix could involve rerouting the larger ships through the lagoon but farther from St. Mark's to dock at a terminal in the commercial port at the nearby industrial area of Marghera.

But some worry that a less spectacular route will damp cruise tourists' enthusiasm, possibly jeopardizing the 6,000 jobs that the industry has brought to the area.

"The port has greatly benefited from this phenomenon," said Paolo Costa, head of the port authority.

If Venice lost its role of home port for the eastern Mediterranean routes, it would quickly be replaced by Athens, Istanbul or Alexandria, Egypt, he said.

By Giovanni Legorano, Wall Street Journal

For more cruise news & articles go to http://www.cruisecrazies.com/index.html

Re-posted on CruiseCrazies.com - Cruise News, Articles, Forums, Packing List, Ship Tracker, and more


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We haven’t gotten to visit Venice yet but we’re definitely looking forward to it. The impact of any ships at a port should always be considered – especially at older ports where the size of today’s ships was unimaginable when the port was built. If the mega-ships have to dock further out while the small to mid-size ships can get closer in (there’s even a small river cruise ship sailing from Venice now) that’s understandable – and the consumer will pay a different price for a different experience. It’s just too bad it seems to take so long for changes to happen nowadays…

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I an fully understand how they feel in Venice - yes their buildings are extremely old and can see how the wake would effect the foundations etc. What must be must be .... I can only say that we have been very priviledged to have cruised twice into Venice and the approach is out of this world. Fantastic memories!!!

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