Cruise ship casts off from Venice amid protests and fresh debate

Demonstrators in motorboats protesting against the presence of cruise ships in the lagoon, as the MSC Orchestra cruise ship (background) leaves Venice. Concerned for the environment and the city's cultural heritage, opponents of the ships say they ca
Demonstrators in motorboats protesting against the presence of cruise ships in the lagoon, as the MSC Orchestra cruise ship (background) leaves Venice. Concerned for the environment and the city's cultural heritage, opponents of the ships say they cause large waves that undermine Venice's foundations and harm its lagoon's fragile ecosystem.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

VENICE • The first cruise ship cast off from Venice on Saturday after almost 11/2 years' suspension due to Covid-19, reigniting a war of words between supporters and opponents of the massive floating hotels.

With the MSC Orchestra looming over St Mark's Square, demonstrators in motorboats waved banners reading "no to cruise ships".

"Cruise ships bring a hit and run tourism that actually brings little benefit to Venice," demonstrator Lucia Tedesco, 57, said.

Concerned for the environment and the city's cultural heritage, opponents of the ships say they cause large waves that undermine Venice's foundations and harm its lagoon's fragile ecosystem.

But the Unesco World Heritage site is also home to fans of the massive vessels, many organised in the "Venice at work" movement.

They say stop-offs by tourist cruises create jobs in a city dependent on tourism, itself massively undermined by the pandemic.

Around 650 people boarded the MSC Orchestra in Venice after showing a negative coronavirus test less than four days old and passing another on the spot.

None showed any sign of annoyance at the strict hygiene measures designed to prevent the intense outbreaks that hit some cruise ships at the pandemic's height.

Just half of the MSC Orchestra's 3,000 places will be filled for its tour taking in destinations in southern Italy, Greece and Croatia.

The ship's crew took on supplies and tightened up safety protocols while in Venice.

Venice's economy had lost "around €1 billion (S$1.6 billion)" in the space of a year from the 800,000 fewer cruise passengers visiting, Cruise Lines International Association director Francesco Galietti said, calling the Orchestra's stop "our contribution to the restart of this city".

As one of the world's best-known tourist destinations, Venice's cruise ship debate always resonates beyond Italy's borders.

Last Tuesday, a slew of international artists - from singer Mick Jagger to director Wes Anderson and actress Tilda Swinton - wrote to Italian President Sergio Mattarella, Prime Minister Mario Draghi and the mayor of Venice.

They called for a "final stop" to visits by cruise ships, as well as better management of tourist flows, protection of the lagoon ecosystem and limits on property speculation to protect the city's "physical integrity but also cultural identity".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 07, 2021, with the headline 'Cruise ship casts off from Venice amid protests and fresh debate'. Subscribe