Venice deaths spark calls for tighter boat restrictions after lifelong friends killed in crash

Two fatal boating accidents in Venice this weekend shocked city residents and prompted calls for a crackdown on speeders in the tourist hotspot’s increasingly congested canals and waterways.

Renzo Rossi, 59, and Natalino Gavagnin, 63, two lifelong friends and neighbors in Venice’s Castello quarter, were killed when their small fishing boat was struck Friday night by a jet boat carrying four passengers in their twenties. 

The pensioners had gone out to catch sea bass near the lagoon opening at the Lido – an 11km-long sandbar between the lagoon and the Adriatic sea. 

They were slowly motoring home around 11.30 pm when they were hit by the 150-horsepower speedboat piloted by a 27-year-old gondolier out with three friends. 

Nearby fishermen reported hearing a speedboat planing across the water before impact, followed by cries for help from the young passengers, who were later treated for minor injuries. 

Mr Gavagnin was thrown out and found dead hours later. Mr Rossi fought for his life waiting for medics, but died after being finally transported to Venice’s hospital. 

Venice | In numbers

Alcohol tests came back negative, but prosecutors are also investigating speed, lighting of both vessels, as well as water ambulance response time. 

Less than 24 hours later, 76-year-old Giovanni Rampazzo drowned in the southern lagoon after the boat he was in with four friends overturned in the wake of a passing vessel.

Boat wakes are dangerous for lagoon navigation, but also for the city’s fragile foundations, which are sinking and deteriorating due in part to damage from waves, wakes and rising tides.

The Italian government was urged to manage the increasingly congested canals and waterways of the iconic lagoon after three died in the world heritage city.

In a statement released on Sunday, Luigi Brugnaro, the mayor of Venice, urged Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to sign a special legislative decree requesting creation of a single regulatory body to oversee, sanction and coordinate the various local, regional and national entities operating in the city built on the sea.

“The recent tragic news events have brought out, once again, the urgent need to regulate, in a united and functional way, the management of lagoon waters. Its time to act,” said Mr Brugnaro, adding that passing the decree would improve accident response efficiency but also help protect the World Heritage city from further deterioration.

Since 1995, dozens have been injured and five have died in lagoon boating accidents, despite navigation rules enforced with cameras and boat patrols. 

Venice has been gradually losing residents, but tourism is on the rise. 

Cruise ships carrying thousands of passengers now stop in Venice, fueling the need for taxis, water buses, gondolas and other service boats. Locals have been identified as contributing to the problem, too. 

Just weeks ago, Lido residents petitioned city, police and port officials complaining that young boaters were speeding, blaring music and putting navigation at risk.

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