Venice cruise ship crash sparks panic, protests

Venice cruise ship crash sparks protests

A collision on a busy canal in Venice is sparking new calls for banning cruise ships in the area. On Sunday the MSC Opera cruise liner lost control – the massive ship unable to stop. On the dock, people fled as the towering, 13-deck-high vessel, its horn blaring, grinded into a much smaller river boat and a crowded pier. Five people were hurt, reports Seth Doane.

The cruise liner, which holds more than 2,600 people, had reported engine troubles as they came into port Sunday morning, and the tug boats trying to guide it in safely were not strong enough.

At least 4 injured in Venice cruise ship crash

"Just to see this thing going out of control was almost literally unbelievable," said eyewitness Simon Skinner.

While tourism is vital here, this incident has re-ignited the controversy over these ships, which activists say are simply too big for this fragile city. Many Venetians are saying "enough is enough," and that the accident was a "wake-up call."    

Members of "No grandi navi - No big ships" movement protest in front of the MSC Opera cruise ship that early in the morning crashed against a smaller tourist boat at the San Basilio dock in Venice
Members of "No grandi navi (No big ships)" movement protest in front of the MSC Opera cruise ship which, earlier that morning, had crashed against a smaller tourist boat at the San Basilio dock in Venice, Italy June 2, 2019. MANUEL SILVESTRI/REUTERS

Protests were sparked immediately among those who are fed up with the cruise liners, which dwarf this city, and argue they endanger the fragile lagoon and change the city's character.

"It worries me because it's something that could've happened so many other times, and could happen again today, " said Jane Da Mosto, an environmental scientist who heads We Are Here Venice, which wants to ban cruise ships.

"These cruise ships bring a huge, huge number of people concentrated into the city, and they've acted like kind of the icebreaker for the destruction of Venice through mass tourism," Da Mosto said. 

The picturesque canals of this former maritime republic draw throngs of tourists. The cruise ships, which sail through the lagoon and the Giudecca Canal to dock nearby,  exemplify the mass tourism crushing this city, as they brings two million visitors a year.

The street artist identified as Banksy recently added his flourish to the protest, setting up his own display as Venice hosts the art world's famed Biennale exhibition.

People look at the new work of British street artist Banksy, on the outer wall of a house along the Rio de Ca Foscari canal in Venice
People look at a new work by British street artist Banksy, of a child in a life preserver, on the wall of a house along the Rio de Ca Foscari canal in Venice, Italy May 15, 2019. MANUEL SILVESTRI/REUTERS

Following Sunday morning's crash, Venice's mayor Luigi Brugnaro said, "Once again it is shown that big ships cannot cross the Giudecca Canal."

Following Sunday's accident, Italy's transport minister, Danilo Toninelli, said the government is "close" to a solution to protect both the lagoon and tourism.