Venice sees its first cruise ship since start of coronavirus pandemic

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Early risers in Venice were surprised Thursday to see a cruise ship nosing down the Giudecca canal for the first time since the start of the pandemic, despite repeated government pledges to reroute such huge vessels due to safety and environmental concerns.

The 92,409-ton MSC Orchestra passed through the basin in front of St. Mark’s Canal around 6 a.m. under tugboat and port authority escort, ahead of the first post-pandemic cruise ship departure from Venice, scheduled for Saturday.

Its arrival comes two years and a day after the MSC Opera struck a dock and a tourist river boat in the same canal, an event that underlined safety concerns among anti-cruise ship campaigners.

Protests are amping up against the renewal of cruise traffic, just two and a half months after Italy’s culture minister, Dario Franceschini, vowed a definitive stop to the passage of big ships through the heart of the city. They include an open letter by the Venice Heritage nonprofit organization, signed by celebrities, including musician Mick Jagger, actress Tilda Swinton, filmmaker Wes Anderson and director Francis Ford Coppola.

“Venice is suffering, and we, citizens of the world, cannot remain deaf to her cries,″ read the open letter — addressed to Italian officials including Premier Mario Draghi, members of his Cabinet, the Venice mayor and the Veneto governor.

“This fragile entity, (a) world heritage site, cannot survive without our help,” the letter added.

The MSC Orchestra cruise ship from MSC Cruises passes through the Giudecca Canal in Venice, Italy, on Thursday, June 3, 2021. It is the first ship to sail down the canal during the COVID-19 pandemic. (JC Viens via AP)

The signatories laid out 10 priorities for the city, including a stop to the passage of huge ships through Venice and a better management of mass tourism.

The Italian government in March passed a law aimed at definitively blocking cruise ship traffic through Venice.

Italy’s Infrastructure and Sustainable Mobility Ministry told The Associated Press that a bidding process would open “any day now” for “ideas aimed at identifying better and structural solutions to realize a new docking area for large ships outside of the Venice lagoon.”

The new terminal would be used both for cruise and container ships, the ministry said in an email.

“Meanwhile, in 2022, as a temporary solution a certain number of ships will be able to dock in Marghera, easing transit on Venice,’’ the ministry said.

Cruise industry officials have told the AP that Marghera, an industrial port within the Venice lagoon, currently does not have suitable facilities to serve as a passenger terminal.

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