Sunday, June 2, 2019

The Wedding Is Off: Cruise Ship Crashes into River Boat and Dock, This Morning

Long-delayed near the mouth of the lagoon while crews addressed this morning's first cruise ship crash, a second cruise ship on its way to dock at Tronchetto passes the wreckage of the riverboat in the Giudecca Canal this afternoon

Today the traditional Festa della Sensa was scheduled to be celebrated: a re-enactment of the ancient annual ceremony in which the Doge, standing aboard his golden barge the Bucintoro and surrounded by dignitaries in other boats, threw a gold ring into the Adriatic, symbolizing Venice's marriage to (and dominion over) the sea.

Of course, Venice ain't what it used to be way back when, and its relationship to the sea has also changed. Long gone are the days when the Republic's fleet of merchant ships and galleys ventured far out to sea and returned from far-flung ports with treasure; gone, too, are the more modest fleets of fishing boats which in much more recent times plied the Adriatic.

These days, Venice is a much more passive recipient of crude oil and, of course, tourists, and it was one of the massive cruise ships carrying the latter which caused the cancellation of today's planned festivities when it plowed into a docked river boat alongside the western reaches of the Zattere, injuring five people.

The Youtube videos of the crash are remarkable, with people screaming and trying to flee the docked riverboat before the immense cruise ship crushes it: BIG SHIP CRASH

There is even one taken from onboard the cruise ship itself as it bears down upon the idle riverboat: VENICE Cruise ship crashing into pier in Venice

For many many years opponents of the ever-increasing number of cruise ships coming into Venice have warned of just such an accident, imagining the damage that could be done to the Palazzo Ducale, for example.

But the cruise industry, and those politicians who do its bidding, have consistently assured worried Venetians that each monster ship is leashed to two stout tug boats as it makes it way along the historic city. With one such tug in front of it, and another following it, they assured us--in spite of instances to the contrary--that a cruise ship could never possibly stray too far toward the fondamente of the city. The mighty tugs would always be there to keep it in line.

The two video links above demonstrate this claim was nothing but a false assurance, a useful fiction; quite simply, a lie. The two tug boats in the video appear completely powerless to alter the course of the cruise ship.

Predictably, the cruise ship industry and those who do its bidding, such as Venice's mayor--in other words, the very same people who assured us that no such accident could ever possibly happen in the first place--have seized upon this accident as proof that the controversial re-dredging of a deep water channel through the lagoon that would allow cruise ships to come to Venice's port via Marghera (rather than through the city center) must start immediately.

Or, in other words, now that the danger and damage of which those opposed to cruise ships in the lagoon have long warned has actually come to pass, Venice has no choice but to immediately begin to dredge a canal whose dangers and damages have also been well-documented by the same people who warned against the possibility of an occurrence like today's.

This rather shocking argument (in which deceit and incompetence are put forth as virtues) is surprisingly common these days in both my native land of America as well as in Italy (not to mention the UK). The basic absurd thrust of which is as follows: Yes, we have lied to you and we have failed you; the things our opponents have warned against have actually come to pass; which is precisely why you should give us full authority to incompetently and greedily pursue our next even more dubious endeavor.

In truth, cruise ships are not only a problem for Venice and its lagoon. Yes, in Venice their 24-hour emissions while they are in port are partly responsible for the city having particularly bad and unhealthy air quality, and the proposed deep water channel to be dredged for them will, among other ill effects, lead to more frequent and more intense acqua alta.

But they are actually a disaster wherever they go, dumping hundreds of millions of gallons of fecal waste into the Mediterranean sea each year, and emitting more black carbon than any other big ships (see graphic below, measured in tons).

from the International Council on Clean Transportation report on black carbon emissions in global shipping, 2015

Indeed, as the short film entitled "Apologia Mediterraneo" by artist Newton Harrison in the current show Artists Need to Create on the Same Scale that Society Has the Capacity to Destroy: Mare Nostrum (Complesso della Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Penitenti, Fondamenta di Cannaregio 910) makes abundantly clear, humankind's own "marriage" to the Mediterranean Sea has become an abusive one, which is quite literally killing it (among the facts cited: total fish population has dropped 65% and is still dropping; in the course of their 9,000 annual trips across its surface, tankers legally release 40 million gallons of oil into it each year in tank washing operations).

As long as Venice's authorities continue to ignore the damage their policies inflict upon not only upon the lagoon but upon the Mediterranean, maybe it's time to entirely discontinue the traditional "marriage to the sea." The marriage was always one-sided anyway, with the Venetian Republic offering neither to love nor cherish its "betrothed," but simply to exploit.

We know the effects of such irresponsible exploitation now, just as we know the damaging effects of cruise ship travel, both in Venice and on the Mediterranean--and those who continue to support such exploitation and such travel might more accurately represent their relationship to the sea, and to Venice itself, with a funeral rather than a wedding.


  1. Hear, hear! So well put, Steven -- I've been reading nonstop today about what happened, of course, but I appreciate the way you put it into context both on a Venetian and on a Mediterranean level.

    You may remember from New York that Transportation Alternatives -- the bike-and-pedestrian advocacy group -- had an initiative to change the way we speak about this kind of event: to stop saying "accident" and instead say "crash." I think we should try to do that with le grandi navi as well. No, this crash wasn't intentional, but that doesn't mean that it's without blame.

    What's a good alternative to "incidente" in italiano?

    1. You make an excellent point, redpencilgirl, to which I'm sorry it's taken me so long to respond. The habitual vocabulary used to describe such events skews the perspective from the get-go, begs the question, limits a real consideration and discussion of what has happened and puts an end to any investigation of accountability even before it begins. Indeed, the concept of "accountability" seems reserved only for "little people," those with no great power or wealth or celebrity--that is, the overwhelming majority of us in this world. Why do we tolerate such loaded discourse?

  2. I believe "scontro" may be a little stronger given the "incidente". Very sad to see this happen and very disappointing that the mayor seems to be contrarian to the public that elected him. (Silly autocorrect changing Italian words....)

  3. I was wondering at first! Grazie. :-)

  4. It was a sobering and even frightening sight to see the videos, and to imagine even how much worse it may have been.
    Deepening the channel is likeliest to happen, but "parking" those huge ships elsewhere ... preferably at quite a distance ... and decanting the eager tourists to boatage more in scale with Venice would be better for all.
    Thank you again for your clear comments and informative account.

  5. I shall indeed have to eat humble pie. A couple of years ago I wrote an article in Corsican about cruise ships in Venice and argued that a Costa Concordia-type accident could not happen because of the tugs to the stern and the bows of each cruise ship. ����

    I realise now that the incident / crash in Sunday could have been so much worse. There could have been victims and /or many more injured. The ship could have ploughed into the Zattere, the Riva, San Marco or San Giorgio maggiore as if into butter whereas apparently the San Basilio quayside is steel-reinforced. Also surprising (to me at least) that the side of the Giudecca canal was deep enough so there was no listing of the ship or, worse still, capsizing.

    Let's hope some serious rethinking is now done by Venice authorities.

    1. Thank you for acknowledging the error in judgement from a while back. While I certainly understand how people want to revel in the beauty that is Venice, unfortunately too many tourists don;t understand it is a fragile system and needs to be treated delicately and with respect.

      I agree, I hope the Venice authorities think deeply on this and work together with the local civic organizations to preserve this jewel. Sustainability is going to be the key.

    2. I agree with Angelo -- thank you, Rosalind, for acknowledging that. --Karen

    3. Well, that was the official line, Rosalind, and I think the tug boat captains themselves were confident (or overconfident, perhaps) that it was accurate--while the politicians making such promises didn't actually worry about it too much.

      It is very very rare indeed these days for someone to actually admit that maybe they got something wrong--in spite of the fact that all of us inevitably get many things wrong as a matter of course and the best we can do is change course as needed. If only the city and its administration could seriously do so!

      Your alternative scenarios of what might have happened are eye-opening, as each is all-too-plausible.

      And after the second incident, soon after the first, in which a cruise ship tied now to THREE tugs almost crashed into the riva in a storm, they are even more chilling. Yet, what will actually change, beside the terms in which the propaganda is spewed?