Protests as 1st post-virus cruise ship leaves Venice
The first cruise ship to leave Venice since coronavirus restrictions were eased set sail on Saturday, but some local residents protested over the return to normal, unhappy about the passage of giant liners through the historic lagoon city.
Hundreds of people rallied on land and small boats fluttering flags saying "No big ships" surrounded and followed the 92,000-ton MSC Orchestra as it departed Venice port en route for Croatia and Greece.
"We are here because we are against this passage but also against a model of tourism that is destroying the city, pushing out residents, destroying the planet, the cities, and polluting," said Marta Sottoriva, a 29-year old Venice resident.
But port authorities and the city government welcomed the departure of the Orchestra, operated by MSC Cruises, seeing it as a symbol of business kicking off after the health crisis that hit hard at the cruise industry and the wider travel sector.
"We are happy to be back ... to restart the engines. We care a lot about Venice and we've been asking for a stable and manageable solution for ships for many years," said Francesco Galietti, national director for the trade group Cruise Lines International Association.
Residents have been urging governments for years to ban large cruise ships and big vessels from passing through the lagoon and docking not far from the famed St Mark's Square.
Campaigners worry about safety and the environment, including pollution and underwater erosion in a city already in peril from rising sea waters.
"The struggle is very long, I think we are against very big financial interests," Marco Baravalle, a 42-year old researcher, and member of the No Grandi Navi (No big ships) group.
He and other protesters were worried that "everything will go back to what we had before the pandemic," Baravalle added.
Italy's government ruled in April that cruise ships and container vessels must not enter Venice's historic center but rather dock elsewhere.
However, the ban will not take effect until terminals outside the lagoon have been completed, and a tender for their construction has not been launched yet.
The Orchestra was also escorted outside the port by tugboats that saluted it with water sprays, a sea tradition reserved for special occasions.
The 16-deck ship can carry over 3,000 passengers and 1,000 crew but for this voyage will be sailing at only half capacity due to COVID-19 restrictions.