Venice,october 2009. photo t.turatello
VENICE, November 1, 2009 -
The peril of rising sea levels may not be the worst nemesis of this fragile city which was built on tree trunks
sunk into a lagoon one thousand years ago. Far more destructive are the displacement waves of fifty meter
high cruise ships that arrive and depart daily from the center of Venice.
      An average three to four of these floating hotels, each carrying about 3,000 passengers plus 1,000-crew,
navigate through the Venetian lagoon and the city center every day. They pass along Saint Mark's Square
where the ocean-graph on the central Campanile (tower) oscillates madly as it registers a small underground
tsunami with each passage.
       While global experts in Copenhagen are about to debate how best to save our habitat (without penalizing sacrosanct
industrial profits) the pavements and walls are cracking in this city of waterways buffeted by the daily barrage of volumes
of water. These displacement waves from cruise ships slam into the fragile foundations of a city with arguably the world's
most delicate ecosystem.                    
      For those environmentalists who look to Copenhagen for solutions it may be wise to remember that entrenched
commercial interests, like those in Venice, are stubbornly determined to harvest ever greater profits even if it means
destroying our ambiance or a historic urban jewel like Venice.
Instead of building a maritime terminal outside the lagoon to ferry passengers into the city on smaller
vessels the city fathers have decided to build a futuristic additional port terminal costing 100 million Euro
inside the city and to extensively dredge the lagoon to allow even the largest modern cruise ships of Queen
Mary size to pass through Venice. Some of these floating monsters carry 10,000 passengers and a crew of
(Venice is already Europe's third largest homeport and 11th on the world tourism list.)
Maritime experts have compared the cruise ships wallowing through Venice to elephants plodding
through a porcelain shop, an environmental disaster-in-the-making.  
        According to Italy's Environmental Agency this maritime port traffic is responsible for 10 per cent of all the emission
of micro-dust in the entire Venetian province while the city's Marco Polo international airport, with the third largest traffic
volume in Italy, emits only 0.5 percent of the region's PM10.
         Venice today swallows ten times more pollution from the cruise ships than the pollution caused by truck traffic jams
on the periphery highway outside the city.
           The cruise ships are moored at Santa Marta, a residential area and their radars, left on day and night, emit
electromagnetic radiations so powerful they eliminate TV receptions in nearby urban areas.
           The engines of these cruise ships run 24-hours to feed the huge generators puffing smoke into the atmosphere
producing dust particles that leave many city homes covered in dark sediments. In order to allow bigger ships into the
lagoon the shallow seabed needs to be dredged further in open violation of the special laws to safeguard Venice. Worse,
the dredging will dig up and distribute toxic deposits from the petrochemical plant at nearby Marghera, waste now resting
on the lagoon bed.                            
           Periodic public protests about vast structural and environmental damage are brushed aside in a city whose
residents are gradually escaping, leaving just under 60,000 inhabitants in a space where thirty years ago 145,000 lived.
        Venice is no longer a real city but a vast shopping mall and art gallery which plays host to some 300,000 tourists a
day and last year alone received 1.2 million cruise ship passengers. Today the modern Merchants of Venice who clamor
for more tourism and more cruise ships escape the city at night to their homes on the mainland. The city also earns vast
revenues from cruise ship companies prepared to pay salty mooring fees for the privilege of giving their passengers a
bird's eye view of the city and Saint Mark's Square from their decks. Already the Mediterranean's leading cruise company,
MSC, has offered to pay 200 million euro to finance the annual Venice Carnival.
Sadly Venice has become a traumatic example of a global society in which the craze for vast profits
ignores concerns about environmental damage or the dangers to peoples' habitats.
              Instead of building economically cheap and reversible barriers to control flood waters threatening the city from
rising sea levels the 10 billion Euro M.o.S.E. project, a vast money-laundering project for Italian companies, has already
become a joke among maritime experts and environmentalists.
            But while this city known as La Serenissima cracks and floods periodically under volumes of water from cruise
ships and rising sea levels the merchants of modern Venice are smiling - all the way to the bank.
Uli Schmetzer is the author of 'Times of Terror' and 'Gaza' (
He lives part of the year in Venice.