But for many on the shore, cruise ships in Venice have come to symbolize the excesses of modern tourism – the type that can unleash thousands of visitors in a poorly equipped city to confront them on a ‘hit and run’ visit. To see the sights, but don’t spend money on the local economy.
For years, campaigns to drive cruise ships out of the lagoon have been gaining traction, with locals claiming the massive structures of the ships are eroding the seabed, turning the lagoon into an offshoot of the Adriatic Sea.
And now, finally, the Italian government agrees with them, passing a decree prohibiting cruise ships and other large ships from leaving the lagoon.
In a statement released to Reuters, the government said it wished “to reconcile the needs to protect the artistic, cultural and environmental heritage of Venice and its lagoon with those linked to cruises and the traffic of goods”.
“Anyone who has been to Venice in recent years has been shocked to see these ships, several hundred meters long and as high as apartment buildings, pass through such fragile places,” he said after the vote. .
A new port in the Adriatic Sea
The cruise liner MSC Magnifica passes near St. Mark’s Square in the Venice Basin on January 23, 2011.
ANDREA PATTARO / AFP via Getty Images
The government will now hold public consultations on the possibility of building terminals outside the lagoon.
This means that previous plans to route ships to Marghera and Fusina – both on the mainland, but inside the Venetian Lagoon – will not be possible.
Previously, the authorities had agreed to re-route large ships away from the Saint Mark’s Basin and the Giudecca Canal – where the ships are a few meters from the city center – but to dock them in Marghera.
This was not enough for activists, however, who say the very presence of large ships in the lagoon is destroying the environment.
The succession of major floods in recent years has been attributed in part to global warming, but in part, some say, to the erosion of the lagoon.
The tension between these pro and anti cruise ships has increased in recent weeks.
More than 4,000 residents work at the port and are among the Venetians who lost their livelihoods during the Covid-19 pandemic.
But others, backed by UNESCO, say the ecological damage caused by cruise ships – and the overtourism they contribute to – must carry more weight.
Just last month, the No Grandi Navi lobby group was fined € 20,000 ($ 23,500) for blocking the exit of three cruise ships from the port in 2017. A crowdfunder to pay their fines included donations from actress Emma Thompson, who has a home in Venice. The group was unavailable for comment today.
Cinzia Zincone, special commissioner of the Autorità di Sistema Portuale del Mare Adriatico Settentrionale, which manages the port of Venice, said in a statement to CNN that it would guarantee “collaboration” in the search for new solutions, but warned that any proposal “must meet the criteria of safety, environmental compatibility and safeguarding of the essence of the home port of Venice in the cruise sector.” «
The port had already opened tenders for the design of a new cruise terminal at Marghera last month, after a government committee decided in December that large ships should dock there, but that more little ones could continue to use the city’s current port.
‘A capital of sustainability’
The Venetians were used to the city being eclipsed by ships.
Miguel Medina / AFP / Getty Images
Most of the Venetians were hopeful at the news. Valeria Duflot, founder of social enterprise Venezia Autentica, called it “positive news”, but added that “this should not be greenwashing but a real step in the right direction”.
She called on the city and port authorities to ban any new canal dug into the lagoon and to create “cold ironing infrastructure” that would allow ships to connect to electricity when they are docked, rather than keep their engines running.
She also called on cruise lines to contribute financially to the new port, and to introduce a “low impact shuttle system” for tenders bringing passengers into the lagoon.
“Venice claims to want to become a capital of sustainability,” she added.
“Regulating the cruise industry is a critical step in getting there. As one of the main ports in the Mediterranean, Venice has the power to move the needle.
“We ask the city to be courageous and to lead by example. “
This is not the first time that authorities have tried to ban cruise ships.
A decision by the Italian government in 2019 to redirect large ships failed when the government fell soon after.