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‘Wheels Up’ The War Cry In Venice

Okay, Venice, do you want it like this…or like this? Do you want lots of tourists and all their trappings, which by the way includes some wear and tear on your environment…or do you want more protection and fewer tourists, dollars and — by extension — jobs?

That’s what “no wheeled suitcases” is going to mean.

Starting in May, just in time for the next Mediterranean cruise season, tourists who use baggage with “hard” wheels will be fined more than $600. Baggage with “inflatable” wheels will be okay, so now tourists will need to carry mini-pumps in their suitcases, or spare tires.

This comes on the heels of decision to ban cruise ships bigger than 96,000 gross tonnes from the lagoon in Venice, which ranks high in port popularity among cruisers. Cruise ships St. Mark'sare not the only carriers of Venice’s 20 million or so tourists every year, but their frequency in the city of canals make them a major contributor…and the ban is an attempt to have them use a part of the environment that's less fragile than the lagoon That argument makes a little more sense than the suitcase one. 

Think about the hard-wheeled luggage ban. 

Most tourist couples will have four pieces of luggage. Since there are no cars on the streets of Venice, that means struggling along the cobblestone surfaces, up and over the many bridges, the way we used to before somebody invented wheels for suitcases. Or it means hiring a local to transport your bags every step of the way, a risky way to balance jobs lost by having fewer tourists. 

This is to prevent deterioration of the cobblestones and the bridges, but only the deterioration caused by tourists — the new law won’t apply to locals.

Oh yes, and there’s another reason for the ban on wheeled suitcases. Noise pollution. An Italian newspaper reported that residents and shopkeepers alike were suffering “serious discomfort” from the constant clatter of wheeled luggage.

The way Venice is going, they may have to worry about another “noise.”

The silence could be deafening..

Today at portsandbows.com: Sir Richard Branson's cruise plans

Carnival Ecstasy
4 nights
September 14, 2015
Miami (return): Key WestCozumel 
Inside: $179
Cost per day: $44

Coral Accident Rocks Carnival 

There was a time when, if the world lost some coral reefs to human carelessness, it was greeted with a reaction akin to a shrug of the shoulders and dismissed with “too bad.”

As we have become more environmentally aware, and responsible, that has changed. So when a cruise ship (Carnival Magic) accidentally destroys a field of coral estimated to be almost 12,000 square feet in size, it’s a big deal.

This happened in late August. The Magic dropped anchor near Grand Cayman, where every cruise passenger is taken ashore in small boats (tenders) to protect what is a playground for deep-sea divers, not to mention the life forms that live among the coral. The problem occurred when the Magic’s anchor hit bottom inside a restricted area, guided there by a local pilot in one of the pilot boats that escort cruise ships to and from ports.

Near George Town, Grand Cayman, there are four areas where it’s safe to anchor…where the coral has already been destroyed. The Port Authority directed the pilot to the southernmost area. The pilot directed the captain of the Magic. Because of high winds, the pilot missed the designated area by about 600 feet.

So did the Magic.

The ensuing damage from the anchor’s crashing into coral, then being dragged through it Coraluntil the ship stopped, then being dragged from it when the Magic left is enough that it will take five or six decades to restore coral that disappeared in three hours.

Under Marine Conservation Law, it is illegal to damage coral with an anchor.

So it was an accident, the damage is done and the blame game hasn’t peaked yet.

Officials at the Port Authority say it’s not their fault…the pilot was directed to the safe area. Carnival, which hires the pilots through an agency, can likely maintain at least some degree of innocence because it was the pilot who directed the Magic’s captain. However, the cruise line is only saying it’s “in discussions with the shipping agent.”

This isn’t like an environmental disaster, like oil spill that requires millions of dollars to clean up. This is damage done. No fine is going to restore the coral and the biggest concern of environmentalists is to make sure it can never happen again.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA): “While it is difficult to put a dollar value on some of the benefits coral ecosystems provide, one recent estimate gave the total net benefit of the world’s coral reef ecosystems to be $29.8 billion/year.”

Benefits include food, protection from storms, and habitat, spawning and nursery grounds for species of the sea…not to mention the income and jobs that come with all of that.

One thing you can be certain of — this story is not over.

Today at portsandbows.com: Another ship going Far East

Carnival Freedom
6 nights
November 9, 2014
Fort Lauderdale (return): Falmouth, Grand Cayman, Cozumel
Inside: $229
Cost per day: $39

Questions with Victoria's Environmental Change

Photo: Greater Victoria Harbour Authority

The people of Victoria, British Columbia's capital city and a regular port for cruise ships going to and from Alaska, are choked. Or maybe that should be "choking."

Here, point by point, is why:

• The city scrapped plans to install shore power (electrical plug-ins) to improve air quality from visiting cruise ships.

• The reasoning for the $9-million decision was that stricter environmental rules would do the job.

• Residents have long complained about emissions from not just ships but also buses and related shuttle vehicles that service passengers.

• The 'scrubbers" that ships are using to meet environmental standards won't be in place until sometime in 2016.

• Between now and then, residents want to allow only one ship without a scrubber to be in port at any one time.

All of this raises at least a few questions:

1. If Canada's busiest cruise port is right, that scrubbers will eliminate the need for shore power to meet environmental regulations, then why did "neighboring" cities like Seattle and Vancouver install them?

2. Do residents really think schedules can be adjusted so that only one non-scrubber ship is in port at once without alienating the cruise lines that stop there?

3. Whether it's shore power or scrubbers, neither will address air-quality complaints from the exhaust of buses, shuttles and taxis.

4. Does Victoria have a bigger decision to make, about whether it wants to be a cruise port or not?

This year, there are 207 cruise-ships visits scheduled for Victoria.

Today at Phil Reimer's portsandbows.com: A photo essay about cruising

Norwegian Breakaway
7 nights
June 15, 2014
New York (return): King’s Wharf
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $71

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