A big cruise ship that was preparing to dock in Venice lost control on Sunday morning, crashing into the wharf and hitting a smaller tourist boat, local authorities said.
Four people were wounded in the accident, which happened in Venice’s central Giudecca Canal, rescuers and port authorities said.
Video footage posted on YouTube and local media showed tourists running away in shock, as the Opera MSC cruise ship scraped along the dockside, before smashing into the River Countess tourist boat.
The crash may have happened after a cable used to link the cruise ship to the tugboats that were pulling it into the city's canals broke, a fire fighters’ spokesman said.
The Opera ship was unable to stop due to its huge weight and the strong currents pulling it towards the dock. “The situation is now under control,” the spokesman said.
The accident immediately reignited debate over the damages caused by gigantic ship cruises to Venice’s historic infrastructure and their huge impact on the fragile lagoon’s environment.
Venetians have long dubbed these massive ships “monsters” because they often ruin the lagoon’s view, but also because they are held responsible for hurting the foundations of the city's historical buildings with the waves they create.
The citizens’ biggest complaint is about the traffic of the cruise ships that are currently allowed to pass within a few hundred yards of St Mark’s Square and Venice’s historic centre on their way to the city’s international passenger terminal.
A 2017 plan that would force the cruise ships weighing more than 96,000 tons to take a less central route via the industrial area of Marghera is still waiting for the national government’s final approval.
However, works on the new route -- which would require the dredging of canals and the construction of a new port – could take up to four years.
“This is an epochal issue,” said Silvio Testa, a member of Venice’s activist group Comitato No Grandi Navi (No Big Ships Committee), which has fought against the big ships’ traffic for years. “Instead, we are treating the Venetian lagoon like a big potato field, where everything can be done.”
In an informal referendum organised by the committee in June 2017, nearly 99 per cent of the 18,000 Venetians who took part voted in favour of banning giant cruise ships from the city’s lagoon altogether.
The high-profile issue has been recently brought into spotlight again by popular street artist Banksy in his "Venice in Oil" installation, showing a large ship floating in the city's Grand Canal, surrounded by the Bridge of Sighs and outraged men steering gondolas.