'MSC Orchestra': First cruise ship in 17 months arrives in Venice amid protests

Celebrities including Mick Jagger and Francis Ford Coppola this week called for an end to large ships passing through the lagoon city

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A cruise ship arrived in Venice for the first time in 17 months on Thursday, signalling the return of tourists to the Italian city after the coronavirus pandemic.

However, the arrival has enraged those who decry the impact of the giant floating hotels on the World Heritage Site.

The MSC Orchestra arrived empty from the Greek port of Piraeus and will pick up about 650 passengers on Saturday, before heading south to sample the delights of Bari, Corfu, Mykonos and Dubrovnik.

The numbers on board are limited by Covid-19 restrictions to a fraction of the ship's usual 3,000 capacity, while all passengers must show negative tests before joining the cruise.

However, its presence in Venice is proving no less controversial than it was before the pandemic, with two demonstrations planned for Saturday – one in support of the cruise ship, one against.

Environmental protesters warn the large waves caused by the cruise ships are eroding the foundations of the buildings in Venice, which with its lagoon are designated a Unesco Heritage Site.

Celebrities and cultural figures including Mick Jagger, Francis Ford Coppola and Richard Armstrong, director of the New York's Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, this week called for an end to the passage of large ships through the lagoon.

In an open letter to the Italian government calling for a range of measures to better protect the city, they warned the historic site risked being "swept away" by the ships.

Compiled by the Venetian Heritage Foundation, the letter also urged an end to mass tourism that "wears it out".

Italy's government announced in March that cruise ships would no longer sail past Venice's St Mark's Square and dock in the historic centre, but instead be diverted to the city's industrial port.

However, the infrastructure is not yet in place for this to happen.