Boating Associations Protest against Boat Waves in Venice

The protest was organized by sailing and rowing associations that are calling for regulations to protect the buildings and avoid navigation risks for small boats.

18 November 2021

VENICE. On Saturday morning, November 19 there will be a demonstration in Venice against the waves from motor boats, a significant problem for the buildings and for navigation. It is the kind of problem only a city like Venice could have, it being built in the middle of the lagoon. Hundreds of people are expected to participate, expressing their sentiments with slogans and displaying banners on their boats, strictly rowing or sailing, in the bacino di San Marco.

The demonstration was organized by a group called “Together”, which brings together 31 sporting associations and societies for rowing and sailing in the Venice lagoon. It’s not the first time that rowers have protested against the waves, or really against motor boat waves: for Venice it is a historic problem, debated for decades, and until now no administration has been able to limit the consequences of the daily passage of thousands of motorized boats in the lagoon.

Fifty years ago 12,500 motor boats circulated in the lagoon each day. Now it is hard to say with any precision how many there are: according to recent estimates it would be between 80,000 and 100,000.

Giannandrea Mencini, a Venetian journalist and writer who has reconstructed the history of protests against motor boat waves in Venice, has discovered that the first evidence of dissent dates back to the 19th century, to be exact in 1882, when a woman in Cannaregio, Santa Siega, presented a claim to the prefect “for damage to the foundations created by the waves produced by the vaporetti providing service from Venice to Mestre”.

139 years later and the claims are the same. The associations are protesting for two main reasons: first because the waves created by motorboats make navigation for smaller boats very difficult, putting them at risk of capsizing; and because those same waves, when they strike the palazzi and the banks, cause damage to the foundations and in general to the delicate structure of the city.

Lucio Conz, president of the association Canottieri Giudecca, explains why the waves are very dangerous.

The damage done to a building by a single wave is unimportant, but it has become visible and worrying now that the situation of stability is in many cases serious and often irreparable. “Obviously the waves don’t knock down a house in one blow,” says Conz. “First the mortar comes loose, then the bricks, and finally the larger stones. To repair this damage requires costly remediation projects, and it is not uncommon in Venice to see palisades that have for years supported the unsafe parts of some buildings”.

Every wave also causes risks and strain for those who navigate the lagoon in rowboats or sailboats.

The more years go by, the more the number of motorboats increases, along with the consequent dangers for the other boats, discouraging many people from preserving a tradition that is not just a sport. “In certain areas of the lagoon you simply can’t go in a rowboat because of the waves, for example at Sant’Elena”, says Conz. “The waves even reach a meter and twenty: for the smallest boats it’s a wall. It’s like riding a bicycle on the highway, however here we are in a lagoon, not a highway”.

The associations argue that controls to enforce speed limits are “practically inexistent”,  and that the increase in tourists brings boats in the lagoon that due to their construction and weight cause damaging waves even if they respect the speed limits. The same is true for the vaporetti that transport thousands of people from one part of Venice to another every day.

In the past year, furthermore, the renovation of many palazzi thanks to the incentives guaranteed by the so-called “110% superbonus” has caused an increase in the traffic of heavy boats carrying construction supplies to the job sites.

With their protest, the rowing and sailing sporting associations are calling on the government to insert some specific rules in the modifications to the proposed law for the protection of Venice and its lagoon which has begun being discussed in Parliament.

First of all they are calling for the definition of a precise limit for the height of waves, “in order to not damage the banks, the palazzi and the foundations”. They are also demanding the creation of a “Public Watercraft Registry”, set up the same way as the one for automobiles, and GPS controls on all motorboats; “a single system that can allow continuous surveillance of the lagoon waters and that takes account of the specific characteristics of each vessel and the wave effects it produces”.

The final request is the institution of a “No Wake Zone”, an area of the city in which boats are not allowed to leave the characteristic white trail, and thus create waves.

Another problem caused by the motor boats that cannot be overlooked is pollution. While pollution categories have been identified for cars, and are used to limit circulation in conditions of poor air quality – Euro 0, Euro 1 and so on – there are no restriction for boats, nor restrictions on the amount of sulfur contained in the fuel. In Venice, for example, the prohibition on the use of polluting vehicles that the Veneto Region, like other regions in Northern Italy, imposes from October to April does not apply to Venice. The boats, in fact, are classified as “watercraft” and not vehicles and so are exempt.

To understand the damage that pollution can do to a city like Venice one can cite the first special law for the protection of Venice, approved in 1973, which limited the fueling of thermal and industrial plants to only gases like methane, or electricity. The rule was introduced to protect the marble of Venice’s buildings, which particulate matter from pollution degrades into gypsum.

More specifically, particulate pollution transforms calcium carbonate, the main building material in Venice (marble, limestone rock, travertine) into calcium sulfate, which because is it more soluble and brittle suffers continued erosion from rain. The aforementioned law calls for the government to have issued new rules – by 1975 – to determine specific characteristics for boat motors and essential requirements for limiting polluting emissions. Since then, despite the decades of protests, there has been no further discussion of limiting the presence of so many boats (which in the meantime are increasing).

Since the mid-1990s environmentalist associations, neighborhood committees and the association “Pax in Aqua”, formed specifically to call for a solution to the motor waves, has sent many appeals to the city administrations, calling on successive Mayors to intervene with more restrictive rules to limit the impact of traffic in the lagoon.

In 2007 the ARGOS (Automatic Remote Grand Canal Observation System) was installed, a network of cameras and sensors to check the speed of boats in real time and fine those not respecting the speed limits. ARGOS was started and stopped several time because it did not comply with privacy laws and the Municipal Regulations on video surveillance. Since 2017 several justices of the peace have annulled dozens of injunction orders issued by the municipal administration because the instrument had not been tested. It was also invalidated by the Supreme Court in 2020.

And so in recent years there has been much discussion about how to control the motor boats, but without finding a valid solution.


Source: il Post

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