The Commission wants to ensure no disaster occurs following the incursion in June of the 140,000-ton cruise ship MSC Divina in the Venice laguna and a near-collision between the Carnival Sunshine and the Riva dei Sette Martiri on 27 July.
Helen Kearns, spokesperson for Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas, said that the task of monitoring what is happening in the harbour and canals of Venice belongs “in the first instance” to the Italian authorities, which has the obligation to “establish the facts.''
Alerted by alarming Italian and international press reports, the EU executive is trying to understand what happened.
“Security is the top priority for us. We are in contact with the Port of Venice to get further clarification," Kearns said, adding that until the information gathering is completed, the Commission would not “speculate'' on the issue.
The EU executive wants to prevent disasters such as the Costa Concordia, the ship wrecked after hitting a rock in the Tyrrhenian Sea near the island of Giglio on 13 January 2012, leaving 32 victims dead. That disaster has prompted the European authorities to take further steps in transport safety, as well as the rights of passengers.
Siim Kallas, Vice-President of the Commission responsible for transport, recently told EurActiv that this summer, for the first time, EU citizens could travel across Europe knowing that they are protected by the law, regardless of the destination of their journey and the means of transport.
“The EU is the first and only region in the world where passengers enjoy fundamental rights that apply to all forms of transport," Kallas said.
In April 2012, three months after the tragedy of Giglio, Kallas presented proposals for passenger ship safety, which were greeted by member states and the transport sector. When these proposals came fully into force last spring, the Commissioner warned: "We avoid standing still waiting for the next incident. Merely reacting after another tragedy would be foolhardy."
The Commission’s approach to strengthening the security of maritime transport has developed along three lines: the promotion of voluntary measures by industry as an immediate response, the implementation of existing legislation in the EU, and putting in place new rules.
These are to be adopted preferably in the framework of IMO, the International Maritime Organization, because it is assumed that such rules should apply to all vessels rather than being limited to those flying an EU flag.
“The protection of passengers is essential, but not enough: we must also protect the environment and historical and cultural assets from potential damage caused by an invasive presence of means of transport,” the Commissioner said.
Indeed, the movement of large ships in the Venice Lagoon is believed to cause substantial damage to the foundations of centuries-old buildings considered a precious part of the world’s historical and cultural inheritance.