For the first time since the pandemic began last March, a cruise ship has returned to Venice.
The MSC Orchestra, a 92,000 tonne vessel, docked at Marittima station early in the morning last Thursday. It entered the lagoon at Lido’s Bocca di Porto and sailed through Saint Mark’s basin and the Giudecca Canal.
The journey through the lagoon was exactly the same as it was pre-pandemic, despite the Italian government’s latest transport decree, issued on April 1; the decree appointed the local Port Authority to issue an international call for ideas to find docking terminals outside the protected waters of the Venice lagoon. The competition was supposed to be launched by May 31, but it has not been published yet. In the meantime, it was established that large vessels would be temporarily rerouted to the industrial port of Marghera; however, moorings have not been prepared and it takes a few months to repurpose docks for passenger use.
The MSC Orchestra can hold up to 2,550 passengers and 1,050 crew members. During its passage in the lagoon, it was ‘escorted’ by two patrol boats of the Italian Coast Guard, as well as three towboats.
The ship, which arrived empty from the Greek port of Piraeus, was scheduled to depart Venice on Saturday at 5 pm after collecting about 650 passengers, before heading south to Bari, and on to Corfu, Mykonos and Dubrovnik. The numbers on board are limited by Covid-19 restrictions, and passengers must show a negative Covid-19 test before boarding.
Protests by the ‘No Grandi Navi’ committee accompanied the departure of the MSC Orchestra. However, a counterprotest was held by ‘Si Grandi Navi', a movement that supports the thousands of workers employed in the Venice cruise industry who have been out of work since the pandemic struck.
The arrival of the MSC Orchestra has also sparked concern for the possible return of unregulated mass tourism, with its impact on the fragile Unesco city. Cruise ships had been stopped from entering Venice due to Covid-19 restrictions. Tourists are slowly returning to Venice following an easing of Covid-19 travel restrictions in mid-May.
Giant cruise ships in Venice have been causing safety and environmental concerns for years, but a definitive solution has yet to be found, given the economic interests at stake.