For years activists of the Committee against Big Boats in Venice have railed against the damage caused by the enormous cruise liners in the lagoon. Last week, the umpteenth protest took place, with three days of events and demonstrations, joined by political groups and environmental activists from all over the country and from abroad.
On June 9th the protesters blocked the cruise boats. At first, the protest was on land when hundreds of people tried to get into the passenger boarding area. The police responded with batons and shields and the demonstrators had to protect themselves with life jackets and toy rubber boats. Then protesters took to the water, with around 40 little boats blocking the San Marco basin through which the giant cruise liners – 300-meter long boats that weigh more than 90,000 tons – pass every day. It’s reported that every year the big cruise boats pass right through the middle of the most delicate city in the world around 3,500 times, with vibrations so strong that residents in the nearest houses have strengthened their walls with glued canvas.
In addition to the danger to the city’s buildings and infrastructure, the boats are a huge threat to the health of the inhabitants themselves. Indeed, each and every cruise boat produces the equivalent of 14,000 cars’ polluting gases. It’s as though the traffic of an entire city crosses Venice several times a day, every day of the year. This pollution is making an already compromised situation much worse, as the chemical plants of the nearby town of Porto Marghera are already poisoning the lagoon, its environment and its people.
On May 20th the Venice local authorities and the cruise companies signed an agreement to create a “green zone” protecting the city from the boats’ pollution. When passing through Venice, cruise liners now have to reduce their emissions by switching to less polluting fuels. For the Committee against Big Boats, though, this agreement is “a semantic trap”. First of all, they say, the fuel that the boats will use is, for some dangerous substances like sulphur, still one hundred times more polluting than the diesel used for cars. What’s more, the agreement does not engage at all with any of the other problems the big boats cause to the city. As if this was not enough, the protesters point out that although the agreement was already said to be done and dusted in March, it actually only became effective at the end of May. That’s three more months of heavy pollution for a fragile, threatened city.