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Venice ban on cruise ships comes into force amid mixed reactions

·3 min read

Starting on Sunday, cruise liners and ships over 25,000 tons or longer than 180 meters will be banned from the shallow Giudecca Canal in Venice. Many residents have long been frustrated with the presence of what they consider “eye-sores” in the world-famous lagoon. But will the ban resist considerable economic pressure?

Only small passenger ferries and freight vessels will be permitted to enter the lagoon city’s historic centre as of 1 August according to the new rule.

The Italian government passed an urgent decree banning large ships just over two weeks ago saying it was a decision taken to “protect the environmental, artistic and cultural heritage of Venice, declared a world heritage site by Unesco”.

The last minute move meant Venice narrowly avoided being included in the list of 'endangered' Unesco World Heritage sites during the 44th session of the World Heritage Committee meeting in China last week.

Unesco had previously expressed concern about the impact of tourism and the cruise industry and the potential damage to buildings, as well as planned infrastructure and construction projects in Venice.

Reference was also made to the impact of climate change and extreme weather events on the lagoon.

New docks

The first cruise ship since the start of the Covid pandemic, the MSC Orchestra, with a capacity of 2,500 passengers, had sailed into the lagoon in early June before continuing its journey to Croatia and Greece prompting hundreds of people to protest the return of the giant liners.

In response, the government identified a temporary landing solution at the mainland industrial port of Marghera, where the construction of new docking areas is planned, so as to accommodate the large ships until a more long-term arrangement is found outside the lagoon.

The ban is a huge victory for those who have campaigned for years claiming such ships caused pollution and erosion to the delicate environment of the lagoon city. Tommaso Cacciari, the leader of the activist group No Grandi Navi (No Big Ships) expressed his satisfaction.

His organisation was behind several large protests when the MSC Orchestra entered the lagoon.

Livelihoods in jeopardy

Other campaigners fear the battle is not yet over as they are up against huge financial interests.

It is not the first time that Italy has passed legislation to limit access of large vessels into Venice. The alternative docking areas in Marghera are far from complete and many believe they have not seen the last of the cruise liner monsters, while others insist the city cannot survive without them.

There are concerns that the decision will further affect tourism after months of lockdown due to the pandemic. The livelihoods of many people in Venice depend on the cruise industry even though the government has said that workers and companies affected by the ban would be compensated.

The ban, which will make a cruise to Venice less attractive for visitors as the ship can no longer reach Saint Mark’s Square, is expected to reduce the number of tourists arriving in the city with this means by half in the long-term, from an average of around 1.5 million per year before the pandemic.

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