Venice, July 29 - The head of Italy's Senate committee on art and culture called on the government to limit cruise ships passing through the Venice lagoon after an alleged close call over the weekend reignited local fury and fears of a disaster like the Costa Concordia crash off Tuscany last year that killed 32 people. "After the tragedy of the Concordia, there is still a safety risk tied to the passage of large ships. Especially in Venice, there is an intolerable risk percentage. The government must apply (changes) immediately," said Andrea Marcucci. On Saturday witnesses reported that the 100,000-ton Carnival Sunshine passed within 20 meters of the Riva Dei Sette Martiri waterfront, not far from St Mark's Square. The ship, whose parent company also owns Costa Cruises, stirred fears of running aground and crushing a water bus between it and the dock. Carnival has issued a statement denying any deviation from protocol or safety risks. On Monday the port authority of Venice said testimony from the crew of the tugboats towing the vessel indicated the same, saying the large ship never came within 70 meters of the bank. It further argued that a ship with a hull as deep as the Sunshine's could not come closer without running aground. But activists as well as the local environment councilor, Gianfranco Bettin, contested the assertion, pointing to photos of larger boats docked in the same place. "They're playing with our Venice," said Andrea Zanoni, a member of the European Parliament's environment committee. "It's time to move beyond words before another tragedy happens. We must definitively ban big ships from passing through the lagoon". In addition to the risk of collision, cruise ships have long been blamed for producing corrosive smog on Venice's medieval buildings, whose fragile foundations are weakened by the massive vibrations big liners put off. A Senator with the center-left Democratic Party (PD) called for a government probe into recent fright. "We must intervene urgently to prevent further scars and risks in Venice," said Felice Casson, "to its beauty, its lagoon and its citizens".
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di Giovanni Pastore