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Port epitaph for Bay of Poets

San Terenzo, March 9: The Bay of Poets on the Italian Riviera, a beautiful stretch of coastline that poet Shelley described as “divine” shortly before his death by drowning in it, is being threatened by a scheme to double the size of the container port of La Spezia a few miles away.

Ten-thousand local people have joined a pressure group, Save the Bay of Poets, fearing that the area will be ruined by extra sea and road traffic. The state-funded project is due to start next month.

The project involves digging deeper shipping channels to enable 1,000-ft-long ships — twice the size of those currently able to use the port — to dock at La Spezia.

Opponents are fearful that the dredging could stir up tons of lead and arsenic that have been illegally dumped on the seabed for years, threatening nearby shellfish farms and the livelihoods of the fishing villages along the coast.

Although Percy Bysshe Shelley died in the Gulf of Spezia at the age of 30 after his boat overturned, the poet had found its idyllic scenery inspirational. He and his wife Mary moved to the area in 1822, living in a seaside villa in San Terenzo, a tiny harbour near Lerici, a few miles from the container port. Byron, a friend of the Shelleys, used to recite verse in a rocky cove nearby.

Giorgio Bucchioni, the president of the port authority and La Spezia’s leading shipping agent, claims that the port expansion will not affect the views but will have a “positive impact on tourism and bring more people to La Spezia”.

Heritage groups, however, insist that it will sound the death knell for tourism.

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