Venice finally bans cruise ships from its lagoon

(CNN) – For those taking a Mediterranean cruise, this is one of the most memorable sights: the city of Venice peeling off under the boat, the centuries-old buildings and bell towers dwarfed by the ship, giving spectators a spectacular bird’s eye view.

But for many on the coast, cruise lines have come to Venice to symbolize the excesses of modern day tourism – the type that can trigger thousands of visitors to a city ill-equipped to hit and run with them to take to see the sights, but not to spend money in the local economy.

Campaigns to evict cruise ships from the lagoon have been gaining in importance for years. Locals claim that the massive structures of the ships are eroding the ocean floor, effectively turning the lagoon into an offshoot of the Adriatic.

And now, finally, the Italian government has given their approval and passed a decree to ban cruise ships and other large ships from the lagoon.

In a statement released to Reuters, the government said it wanted to “reconcile the needs of protecting the artistic, cultural and environmental heritage of Venice and its lagoon with those relating to cruises and freight transport.”Dario Franceschini, Italy’s minister of culture, tweeted that it was “the right decision that has been waited for years”. He added that UNESCO had requested this in the past.

“Everyone who has visited Venice in recent years has been shocked when these ships, which are hundreds of meters long and as high as residential buildings, pass through such fragile places,” he said after the vote.

A new port in the Adriatic

The cruise ship MSC Magnifica will pass near St. Mark’s Square in the Venetian 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 forward ships to Marghera and Fusina – both on the mainland but within the Venice Lagoon – are not possible.

The authorities had previously agreed to divert large ships from St. Mark’s Basin and the Giudecca Canal – where the ships are only a few meters from the city center – but allow them to dock in Marghera.

However, this wasn’t enough for activists who say the presence of large ships in the lagoon is devastating to the environment.

The aftermath of the major floods in recent years has been partly attributed to global warming, but partly to the erosion of the lagoon.

The tension between these professional and anti-cruise lines has increased in recent weeks.

Over 4,000 locals work in the port and are among the Venetians who lost their livelihoods during the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, others, backed by UNESCO, say the environmental damage caused by the cruise lines – and the overtourism they contribute to – must carry more weight.

Just last month, the printing group No Grandi Navi was fined 20,000 euros for blocking the exit of three cruise ships from the port in 2017. One crowdfunder that paid their fines included donations from actresses like Emma Thompson, who has a home in Venice. The group was not available for comment today.

Cinzia Zincone, extraordinary commissioner of the Autorità di Sistema Portuale del Mare Adriatico Settentrionale, which operates the port of Venice, said in a statement to CNN that she would guarantee “cooperation” in finding new solutions, but warned that any proposals “must be respected” safety criteria, environmental compatibility and protection 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 in Marghera last month after a government committee decided in December that large ships should dock there, but smaller ships could continue to use the current city port.

“A capital of sustainability”

Venetians were used to seeing the city dwarfed by the ships.

Venetians were used to seeing the city dwarfed by the ships.

Miguel Medina / AFP / Getty Images

Most Venetians were hopeful about the news. Valeria Duflot, founder of Venezia Autentica social enterprise, called it “positive news” but added that “this shouldn’t be greenwashing, but a real step in the right direction”.

She called on city and port authorities to ban the digging of new canals in the lagoon and to create “cold ironing infrastructures” that would allow ships to connect to electricity when docked instead of running their engines.

She also called on cruise lines to contribute financially to the new port and a “low impact shuttle system” for tenders to bring passengers to the lagoon.

“Venice claims to want to become a capital of sustainability,” she added.

“Regulating the cruise industry is a critical step in doing this. As one of the main ports of the Mediterranean, Venice has the power to move the needle.

“We ask the city to be brave and set an example.”

It’s not the first time authorities have tried to ban cruise lines.

A move by the Italian government in 2019 to divert large ships failed when the government fell shortly thereafter.

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