Friday 1 December 2023

History repeats. ‘Almost pathological madness’: the monster cruise ships to return to Venice by 2027, guided in by Mayor Brugnaro - Michelle Lovric

Luigi Brugnaro, Venice’s mayor, has never quite given up on the cruise ships – not even after they were banished to Marghera to the applause of the entire world, (apart from the cruise industrialists and that tiny tight ring of local entrepreneurs who scoop profit out of their operations). Now Brugnaro is endorsing a new plan to bring the monster cruise ships of up to 60,000 tonnes back to Venice's historic centre from 2027. The Titanic, to put the proposal in context, weighed in at 52,000 tonnes, fully laden.

This scheme treats the Venetian lagoon as a highway, not an irreplaceable living thing. In such contempt lies danger for flora, fauna, beauty and history. Cue cries of disbelief and outrage about the threat to the lagoon’s ecosystem, the danger of collisions and fuel spills, the menace to the foundations of Venice’s historic buildings, the shipwrecking of air quality – and a general sense of disbelief that Venice’s own mayor is backing something that goes against every instinct for what is right and good for the city. Brugnaro, of course, was elected by the votes of the mainlanders of Venice and largely rejected by the islanders. He makes no secret of his allegiances.

'What will happen if the cruise ships return'?
NGN poster
Environmentalists led by NoGrandiNavi (NGN) and AmbienteVenezia, political parties, researchers and residents have denounced the new schemes presented by the Port System Authority in September. Brugnaro’s pet projects are three: redevelopment of the Malamocco-Marghera canal (also known as the Canale dei Petroli), the excavation and enlargement of the Vittorio Emanuele III canal that leads to the historic centre of Venice, and the creation of an artificial island for the accumulation of toxic sludge from the digs.

In summary, the scheme would excavate great trenches in the highly polluted mud of the lagoon, deep enough to permit 150 massive cruise ships annually right back to the Stazione Marittima near the end of the Zattere. This plan, doubtless years in the brewing, probably explains why no new creative idea has ever been entertained for the Marittima since the cruise ships left by the national government decree that Brugnaro and his cohort feel no obligation to observe. The cruise ‘interessi’, it seems, were just biding their time, setting up their funding and working out how to market their idea to a sceptical world: in a breathtaking coup of doublespeak and greenwashing, they are calling their excavations, which will bring a world of pollution into Venice, ‘The Green Deal’.

The proposed dredging routes are shown in the map above: the Canale dei Petroli in red leading to Marghera and the Canale Vittorio Emanuele in blue leading to the Stazione Marittima near the Zattere. With thanks to AmbienteVenezia

Tommaso Cacciari, leader of the NoGrandiNavi committee, has described Brugnaro’s new moves as an "almost pathological madness".

I attended a sombre meeting at San Leonardo on September 29th, when Cacciari explained that NoGrandiNavi is remobilizing. But now the front will move to the Canale dei Petroli.

NGN and its sister organisation AmbienteVenezia are planning a double campaign … a ‘mobilitazione popolare’ and also a legal, procedural route. For example, City councillor Gianfranco Bettin (Venezia Verde Progressista), Luana Zanella (Green Party MP) and Franca Marcomin (Green Europe spokesperson) have announced that the European Green Party is drafting a document to protect Venice, to be presented to the European Parliament.

On September 29th, Cacciari set out his road map for protest but also listed the grim new obstacles for those who want to stop Brugnaro’s tide of massive cruise ships.

NGN, Cacciari explained, has already had a taste of the new problems facing the new campaign.

For a start, there's the turbo-charged greenwashing being deployed by the cruise lobby, as by so many other notable polluters. Expensively marketed greenwashing is hard to fight. The law is only just catching up with this double crime against the environment. Claims are made in contexts where no challenge is possible. Comments, for example, are disabled under articles and videos. Unarguable but absolutely irrelevant facts are grandly puffed. Unpalatable projects are sugar-coated with childlike cartoon graphics. In a pretty You-Tube video, also airing in English, many picturesque and comforting claims are made about the Port System Authority’s ‘Green Deal’, with a patronising lack of detail. There is no mention, for example, of the toxic waste leaked by Marghera’s petrochemical industry into the lagoon sediment for over a century – or what might happen if the heavy metals embedded in the mud are suddenly shaken and stirred into the living waters.

"Don't touch the lagoon - No to the new
excavations; no to cruise
ships back at the Stazione Marittima.
They want to destroy the lagoon.
They want to bring the cruise ships back
to Venice by excavating new channels."

Some of those heavy metals are at 120 percent of what is considered safe or acceptable by the scientific community. These deposits are the legacy of the Veneto’s millionaire-making 20th century rush into petrochemical, resin and chlorine production. Lead, dioxins, vinyl chloride monomer, polychrome biphenyls are described by journalist Ugo Dinello as ‘the fingerprints left at the crime scene that tell the story of Veneto's industrial development … . highly carcinogenic chemical compounds that remain in the environment with great persistence, so much so that they are defined as "eternal pollutants"'. Brugnaro plans to excavate 1,280,000 cubic meters of this sediment to facilitate the access of the cruise ships to Venice. Italy has no landfill site equipped for such volumes of poisonous waste. So what does not get ‘accidentally’ swilled into the water during excavations will be redistributed in the lagoon or deposited on the manufactured island known as the Isola delle Tresse, near Fusina.

Venetians of the lost Republic would never have allowed such imprudence – they knew to avoid deep dredging near Murano, for example, where arsenic and lead leaked from the glassworks.

Greenwashing is recognised by the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority as not just moral but commercial misconduct. Those who falsely claim green credentials gain customers who want to do the right thing, and who will pay more for what they believe to be wholesome products or services. Entities that do not lie about their green credentials are thereby disadvantaged. However, everyone wants to hear good news about the environment. Good-hearted people want to feel that they can be part of a solution, making them easy targets for the greenwashers.

Also difficult for NGN’s new campaign is the fact that the visible outrage of the outsized cruise ships is no longer there to draw the world’s attention to the new problem. The cruise lobby is profiting from the fact that the world thinks, ‘mission accomplished’ in Venice. Gone and good riddance. It seems inconceivable that Venice, suffering from damaging numbers of tourists, would shoot itself in the foot by ushering in more, or expose the historic centre to the known danger of collisions and impacts such as the terrifying incident in June 2019 when the MSC Opera ploughed into another vessel and the embankment at the Zattere after a technical fault went unnoticed by the crew until it was too late.

In any event, the big ships seem to have gone. But in fact they are still in Venice’s lagoon, sending out toxic emissions, causing danger. The passengers, currently diverted to Marghera and other places, are still transported in to choke Venice’s overburdened streets without adding anything of much value to the city’s economy – profits are tightly palmed by those few who host, ferry for and supply the cruise lines. Cruise tourists the world over bring little economic benefit to the city they infest as their time is carefully engineered so that they do most of their spending aboard. Cruise ships in Venice, for example, stage special late-night dinners so their passengers don’t have to spend at Venetian restaurants.

How will NGN fight these twin problems of greenwashing and invisibility? NGN’s plans to highlight the absolute interdependency of Venice and her lagoon. Those who want to gouge the lagoon for the cruise ships will not be allowed to do so out of sight and out of mind.

NGN’s roadmap was set out at the meeting on September 29th. 

October 7: an Assemblea Cittadina informed the public and set in motion plans to get going with before the excavations start. NGN will take the campaign out to the lagoon, deploying the bricole (navigation poles) along the Vittorio Emmanuel Canal to signal the looming problem by ‘decorating’ them with NoGrandiNavi banners.

October 22: NGN made the new danger felt in the Venice Marathon (see photo below).

November/December: a conference at the university.

January: NGN will celebrate its birthday with a campaign dinner.

February: an NGN parade at Carnevale.

March 24: a large public demonstration will take place all over the city on foot and in boats. An island of boats, a floating protest, will stretch right out into the lagoon, pointing the way to the threat.

April: the launch of the Biennale of Art. NGN is working with various artists on a ‘super-proposta’ to make the idea of defending the lagoon both concrete and communicable.

NGN have already provided the international symbolism of a city that has resisted the cruise industry, Cacciari told us on September 29th. “Now the battle has moved to the lagoon and the polluted mud. We have to defend the lagoon from the greed of the boats and the authorities that collude with them.”

These maps were kindly provided by Luciano Mazzolin of Ambiente Venezia to illustrate what can only be described as the proposed routes of betrayal through the lagoon.
Meanwhile, NGN is hampered on another front – those with deep pockets continue to persecute members with expensive prosecutions. On that front at least, there was good news last week. The latest trumped-up charge against the NGN leader Tommaso Cacciari – initiated in 2017 – was dismissed by the Venetian courts on November 20th. Cacciari was accused of interfering with a police vessel during a demonstration against the cruise ships. The entire case was dismantled, having no factual basis. Here's NGN celebrating after the verdict.

In London, the River Residents Group and other organisations continue to deal with the plans of the Oceandiva, Europe’s biggest party boat, which wants to operate on the Thames. Our members too have been subject to threats of legal action and indeed falsely denounced to the police for planning a non-existent large demonstration. We try not to waste time or energy on intimidations like this: it’s a well-worn tactic of large companies to try to neutralize activists this way. Nor was I surprised when the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) declared my safety questions about the Oceandiva ‘vexatious’ on the grounds that they took up too much time, also complaining about repeated questions - questions repeated because answers were evaded in the first place.

So many people ask why the Mayor of London hasn't stopped the Oceandiva. Unfortunately, the Mayor has sidestepped the issue. Because it floats, the Mayor of London disclaims any responsibility for the impacts of the Oceandiva, even though its emissions would travel from the piers, surrounded by residents, where it plans to charge and hold long, static parties. Because it floats, the Mayor disclaims any responsibility for the Oceandiva’s effects on historic views.

Like Brugnaro's 'Green Deal', the Oceandiva is trying to enter the city on a flood of greenwash. Its advertising – and that of its agents in the eventing world – boasts of being 100 percent carbon neutral and fully electric. It is in fact a hybrid, capable of running just three hours on its batteries, according to its own marine technician speaking at webinar in June. The rest of the time it will use Hydrolized Vegetable Oil, a form of diesel, which is linked to deforestation by virtue of its use of palm oil. Meanwhile all the associated emissions will be discounted via discredited carbon credits (VCA). And no mention is ever made of the embodied carbon in the £25,000,000 new build out of steel and aluminium.

We understand that the Oceandiva is currently restricted to the privately-owned Royal Docks and not allowed on the river because it has not gained its safety certification from the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA). The only visible manifestation recently has been a planning application to sanitize the unauthorised electrical infrastructure erected a year ago at West India Pier, in front of 750 residents. The pier is owned by Sunset Moorings Ltd which shares directors with Oceandiva Shipping Ltd.

Meanwhile, questions are now being asked – in an excellent piece of investigative journalism by the Byline Times – about both the roles and accountability of the Port of London Authority (PLA) and the MCA in the Oceandiva story.

With the PLA encouraging more and more cruise ships into the metropolitan Thames, London and Venice have ever more in common. London's River Residents Group continues to be inspired by and learn from NGN and AmbienteVenezia, both of which I thank for the images in this post. Particular thanks also to Barbara Warburton Giliberti and Luciano Mazzolin.

It's a hard battle ahead for all of us. As NoGrandiNavi says – ‘We are on the right side of history and we will not stop fighting for the ultimate extermination of these monsters from our city!’



To join NoGrandiNavi, please visit their website. On this page you can donate to their cause:

Sostieni le nostre lotte – Comitato No grandi navi

The facebook page for AmbienteVenezia is here: (1) AmbienteVenezia | Facebook

More information about the chemical threat can be found on the website of Campaign for a Living Venice: Venice and the Poisons of the Small Canal. Study Reveals the Dangers of the Vittorio Emanuele Excavation – Campaign For A Living Venice

To join the River Residents Group, please visit our website: River Residents Group . You don't need to live on the river to be a part of this movement - you just need to care about the Thames. 

Michelle Lovric’s website

1 comment:

Carol Drinkwater said...

This is a madness. After so much fighting to ban them. I sincerely hope this can be reversed again, Michele.