Calling the accusations "unfounded," the cruise line and Italian authorities say the ship actually had at least 229 feet of clearance rather than the 65 feet being reported.
"With reference to media reports of an alleged 'salute' made Saturday by the cruise ship Carnival Sunshine in Venice, Carnival reiterates that those accusations are unfounded," Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen told Cruise Critic.
"The passage through the Venice Lagoon occurred in full compliance with navigational regulations and well within the accepted parameters for distance from shore. The Carnival Sunshine passed more than 70 meters from Riva dei Sette Martiri on the planned route. The distance from shore has been confirmed by the Coast Guard, the local pilot association and Carnival Cruise Lines."
Reports of the incident, which allegedly occurred because Carnival Corporation Chairman and former CEO Micky Arison had his personal yacht stationed near the port, began circulating Sunday when British newspapers The Daily Mail and The Independent published video of the cruise ship appearing to get too close to the waterfront and trapping a water taxi in between.
The Daily Mail quoted an Italian news agency ANSA article in which the man who filmed the event said: "I was sitting at the cafe reading on the bank, as I often do, when I saw the ship... Rather than moving towards the centre of the channel it almost brushed the shore causing a vaporetto to get caught dangerously between the ship and the bank."
But on Monday, ANSA reported that based on testimony from the crew of the tugboats guiding the ship, the port authority of Venice confirmed Sunshine never came closer than 70 meters (229 feet) of the bank. Carnival said this is well within normal distances.
John Honeywell, a cruise blogger and writer for The Daily Mirror, was on Carnival Sunshine when the event occurred.
He wrote, "In my view, the whole story is a complete nonsense… Reports suggesting that Sunshine's captain took risks with his 102,000-ton vessel and its 3,000 passengers and put it within 20 meters of the shore ignore the fact that a local pilot was on the bridge and in charge of navigation at the time."
Plus, two local tugs were stationed in front of and behind the ship, he said.
"Suggestions that a vaporetto was almost squeezed between Sunshine and the shore are ludicrous," Honeywell added. "The two never came close to touching."
Honeywell also commented on the video (viewable in the The Independent article), which he called "nothing more than a collection of still pictures of Sunshine combined as a slideshow.
"Shots of other ships in Venice, which form part of the video, are stock footage; none of the ships shown was in the city on Saturday."
Venice and its environmental protection routinely are a hot-button issue in Italy and around the world. Opponents of continuing to allow cruise ships to call in Venice, such as environmental minister Orlando and the special interest group "No Navi Grandi" (No Big Ships), argue the ships are damaging the city's foundations. The environment committee of Italy's parliament debated banning ships over 40,000 tons from sailing close to the Doge's Palace. Proponents of allowing cruise ships to continue calling cite the city's reliance on the tourism industry, both in terms of jobs created and tourism dollars spent.
Carnival's Gulliksen warned against taking photos at face value. "As we are all aware, photos and video often create erroneous perceptions based on the angle at which they are shot and other factors."
--by Dori Saltzman, News Editor