Italy bans large cruise ships in central Venice to protect lagoon

Large cruise ships will not be allowed to sail to central Venice from August 1, Italy announced on Tuesday, after years of warnings that they risk causing irreparable damage to the lagoon city.

The decision, confirmed at a meeting of Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s cabinet, comes just days before a meeting of the UN cultural organization UNESCO, which had proposed adding Venice to its list of endangered heritage sites.

“The decree passed today is an important step for the protection of the Venetian lagoon system,” Draghi said in a statement.

He added that there would be money to mitigate the impact on employment.

The move will divert the largest ships to the city’s industrial port, Marghera.

However, this is seen only as a temporary solution, with ministers advocating ideas for a new permanent terminal.

Campaigners have been calling for years to ban cruise ships from sailing past the iconic St. Mark’s Square.

They say the giant floating hotels are creating huge waves that undermine the city’s foundations and damage the lagoon’s fragile ecosystem.

The debate was sparked again by the return of cruises last month after the coronavirus pandemic, when the crowds of tourists that normally fill the streets of Venice stayed away.

Venice was inscribed on the UNESCO Heritage List in 1987 as an “outstanding architectural masterpiece”.

But the agency last month warned of the need for “more sustainable tourism management” and recommended adding Venice to its list of endangered heritage.

Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said on Tuesday the decision had become urgent after years of deliberation on what to do.

The first cruise ship to depart from Venice since the Covid-19 restrictions were eased, left port on June 5, 2021. © AFP / FRANCE 24

‘Good compromise’

“From August 1, large ships will no longer be able to reach Venice via the San Marco Basin, the San Marco Canal or the Giudecca Canal,” said Infrastructure Minister Enrico Giovannini.

Compensation would be made for those who missed out on the move and 157 million euros ($185 million) was invested in the port of Marghera.

He said the ban was a “necessary step to protect the environmental, landscape, artistic and cultural integrity of Venice”.

It will only apply to the largest ships, with those with around 200 passengers being considered “sustainable” and still allowed downtown.

Those who meet one of four criteria will be banned: weigh more than 25,000 tons, be more than 180 meters long, more than 35 meters high, or produce more than 0.1 percent sulfur.

The vice president of the tourist organization Confturismo, Marco Michielli, said the new law is a “good compromise”.

“Marghera’s solution would maintain port activity in Venice: on the one hand, freeing jobs and activities and, on the other, freeing the Giudecca Canal,” he said.


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