The wreck of the Costa Concordia has focused political attention on the risk potentially posed to Venice by its cruise ship traffic. This has increased by over 300% in 11 years: in 2000, these vessels the length of two and half football pitches and as tall as apartment blocks sailed up and down the Canale della Giudecca 400 times; in 2011, it was 1,308 times, concentrated between April and October. The minister for the environment Corrado Clini, supported by the commission for the environment of the Senate, and the president of the Veneto, Luca Zaia, has exchanged letters on 18 January with the head of the Venice Port Authority and former mayor, Paolo Costa, in which they agree to start work at once on a short term solution, which is to avoid the city centre by bringing the ships into the lagoon by the Malamocco opening and dredging a connection to the port of Venice. This is expected to cost €30m and could be carried out by the end of the year. By 2017, says Costa, a terminal could be constructed outside the lagoon at Malamocco, with passengers brought in by land or in smaller boats. The citizens’ action group “No alle grandi navi” , which has been ignored by the authorities until now, is unpacified, saying that the dredging would cause yet more damage to the lagoon, and the passage of numerous small boats would increase the wave erosion of the lagoon and buildings.
Mayor Giorgio Orsoni, who has recently opposed the cruise ships, told La Nuova Venezia newspaper that he welcomed the minister's speedy decision. His power in this matter is very limited, however, while the interests of the Venice Port Authority are not. It is a 44% shareholder in the private company Venezia Terminal Passeggeri S.p.a (VTA), founded in 1997 together with SAVE S.p.a., the company running Venice airport, Veneto Sviluppo S.p.a., and Finpax S.p.a., representing the financial interests of the Veneto Region and Venetian investors respectively, with token shareholdings by the Venice chamber of commerce and town council. VTA has been responsible for the rapid growth in cruise ship traffic and has invested heavily in the infrastructure of the port in Venice. Each cruise ship pays €30,000 per mooring, and annual income to Venice from the ships is €300m in direct and €300m in indirect earnings, according to the Gazzettino newspaper.
The risk of one of these ships causing damage because it is wrecked in the city is actually very small; it is more probable that the movement of such massive quantities of water within narrow canal borders is damaging the pavements and houses, while pollution from the smokestacks is very high. What is certain, however, is that the sight of these vast white shapes dwarfing the exquisite buildings of Venice is visual pollution of a high degree.
Anna Somers Cocks