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Sardinia targets yachts in battle against rich tourists

One of the prettiest corners of the Mediterranean became steeply more expensive for yachtsmen this week after Renato Soru, the governor of Sardinia, slapped heavy harbour dues on all non-Sardinian boats.

Protests were immediate. The agent who sets up the itinerary of Octopus, at 127m one of the world's biggest yachts and owned by Microsoft's co-founder, Paul Allen, called the harbour master of Portorotondo to check if the rumours were correct. "Is it true that if we anchor for just one day in Sardinia we'll have to pay dues of $20,000?" he asked.

No, it wasn't true. That is the new annual charge for non-local boats. The day rate for boats longer than 60m is €2,075 (£1,400), but that is still about 10 times the amount charged by other harbours around the Italian coast and on the southern coast of Corsica, a brief sail to the north. Mr Allen, whose guests aboard often include Bill and Melinda Gates, didn't get to where he is today by throwing his money around. "We'll let you know," the agent said.

The steep new dues are the latest attack by Mr Soru, who became governor two years ago, on the upmarket tourist economy that has brought flocks of wealthy people to the island. The most prominent is Silvio Berlusconi, whose favourite holiday home is a huge villa near Portorotondo. The marina at Portorotondo and the chic and highly priced holiday villas around it were developed by the Aga Khan, and have become one of the glitziest watering holes in the country.

Mr Soru's critics claim he is killing the golden goose. Daniela Santanche, an MP with the post-Fascist Alleanza Nazionale party and the owner of 25m yacht, said: "I am giving up my usual Sardinian holiday, all thanks to Soru and his taxes. I'll take the boat to Corsica and Sicily instead and spend only a few days in the island I love.

"It's a gesture of protest against a tax which is going to ruin the tourist industry and that of ships and ports. It's madness and a taste of what we can expect with the left in government."

Gian Battista Borea d'Olmo, director of the marina at Portorotondo, said: "It's a hard blow and it writes off 30 years of work here. It's a gift to Croatia and Greece. That's where our customers will be heading."

The assault by Mr Soru on his island's super-rich visitors comes weeks after news that he is putting a 20 per cent tax on the buying and selling of second homes within 3km (1.9 miles) of the sea. Both levies are consistent with his strategy of protecting the superb coastline from further development: his first act in power was to ban all new building within 2km of the coast. "This is a measure," he said at the time, "that will protect Sardinia and Sardinians for the next 500 years."

He spoke of the tourism industry as a form of pseudo-colonial exploitation, "not much different from the 19th and early 20th centuries". Mr Soru has his supporters, including Tom Barrack, the US businessman who owns Sardinia's Costa Smeralda. Vincenzo Onorato, a shipping company owner, told Corriere della Sera: "Sailing boats pay half, right? That's fair. If the charges are reasonable, where's the harm?"

Big names, big prices

Since being developed in the 1960s, Sardinia's Costa Smeralda has become the haunt of a vast number of A-list stars, including Sir Mick Jagger, Naomi Campbell, below, Jon Bon Jovi and Michael Schumacher. Many go to the Hotel Cala di Volpe, where the presidential suite costs £10,000 a night. Princess Diana stayed with Dodi al-Fayed on the Costa Smeralda in 1997, immediately before flying to Paris where she was killed in a car crash.