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The Shetland Oil Disaster: Italy to ban tankers from Venice lagoon

Concern over the disaster has prompted a move by the Italian government to banish oil tankers from the Venice lagoon and the narrow, dangerous straits between Corsica and Sardinia.

Eleven million tons of oil destined for western European countries passes through the Venice lagoon each year bound for the port of Marghera, and a major oil spill would be an unimaginable disaster, both for the city and for the lagoon wildlife, the Italian environment minister, Carlo Ripa di Meana, said. A spillage would be especially damaging since equipment normally used for containment cannot operate in such shallow waters. Huge industrial interests and jobs depend on the oil and the minister made it clear it cannot happen at once.

'First there will be a ban on tankers without double holds which reduce the danger of spills,' Mr Ripa di Meana said. 'The total ban will come later in order to give Porto Marghera time to organise another supply system.' He said he would also ask the French government to agree to a ban on tankers passing through the Bocche di Bonifacio, the straits between Corsica and Sardinia which at some points are only about five miles wide.

Since only 3 per cent of the 5,000 tankers that pass through the straits each year are bound for French ports, he expects France to agree. The European Parliament voted unanimously to demand such a ban this summer.

The move will not be popular with the oil industry since ships will have to take longer routes round Sardinia or Corsica to their destinations.

'I expect strong resistance,' Mr Ripa di Meana said.