ROME—Italy suspended the passage of large cruise ships through the historic center of Venice, after the return of the giant vessels to the lagoon city since June reopened divisions between Venice’s tourism industry and residents who want the behemoths banned.
Italy’s government on Tuesday decided to stop large cruise ships from approaching Venice’s canals and piazzas until new docking sites have been built on the edges of the lagoon. Campaigners against large cruise ships have argued for decades that the vessels, and the waves and pollution they cause, damage the delicate fabric of Venice.
The decision by the cabinet of Prime Minister
resolves, for now, a long-running dispute over the lucrative cruise-ship traffic that has helped keep Venice’s economy afloat but infuriated many residents.
Venice’s reopening for tourism after the Covid-19 restrictions of the past year has heightened a conflict between local businesses that rely on tourism and residents who want to avoid a return to overcrowding and environmental strains on the city and its surrounding lagoon.
The increasingly heavy maritime traffic of recent years has prompted a mounting backlash in Venice, where many say the heavy wakes of large ships erode the fragile foundations of historic waterfront buildings.
“This is a fundamental step to protect the environmental, landscape, artistic and cultural integrity of Venice,” said Italian Transport Minister
Tuesday’s decree, which takes effect from Aug. 1, makes it unlikely that the giant ships, which for years towered over the ornate palazzos of Venice, will ever come close to famous landmarks such as St. Mark’s Square again. The Venice port authority has launched a tender for the refurbishment of the docks in an industrial zone at a safe distance from the historic center of Venice, which would serve as a temporary docking place for the cruise ships. The planned permanent solution is to build a new dock for large ships outside the entrance to the lagoon. The government hasn’t said how long that will take.
“I am happy and I hope that now they will set up reasonable solutions for these floating skyscrapers. I am not against them arriving in Venice, but it was about time they stopped them from passing by St. Mark’s,” said
a 52-year-old graphic designer.
But Venetians who work in tourism have defended the cruise ships as a lifeline for the city.
“It’s an absurd decision. How can you stop such an activity so abruptly?” said
who works for a company moving supplies and luggage for cruise ships. “I’d like them to look at those workers who haven’t worked for the last 18 months to realize how much damage they are creating.”
In 2020, the city’s area lost around 200 million euros, the equivalent of $237 million, in revenue due to lack of cruise liners.
The journey leading to the government’s decision has been tortuous. Rome initially banned large ships from getting too close to Italy’s coast in 2012, after the cruise ship Costa Concordia ran aground off the coast of Tuscany in January of that year.
However, the government made an exception for Venice, until an alternative route through the lagoon could be found. Until now, large cruise ships passed about 1,000 feet from St. Mark’s Square, through the famous vistas of the Giudecca canal, to dock at a passenger port.
In June 2019, a cruise ship crashed into a Venetian pier, damaging a smaller boat and injuring five people. The accident energized a local campaign to keep the ships out of the heart of Venice.
Italian authorities didn’t come up with a solution until early this year, however, when it decided to open the tender to develop the temporary alternative docking site within the lagoon. Tourists could then take smaller boats to the historic city, or take a bus to reach it via the city’s bridge to the mainland.
The cruise line industry welcomed the decision.
“The cruise industry has been supportive of a new approach for many years, so this is a major step forward,” said the Cruise Lines International Association, an industry body based in Washington. “We now look forward to progress being made towards the provision of alternative docking arrangements in time for the 2022 season.”
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