Italy announced on Tuesday that it was banning large cruise ships from entering Venice waters and also declaring the city’s lagoon a national monument, in a bid to protect a fragile ecosystem from the drawbacks of mass tourism.
The ban, claimed for decades by Venice residents and environmentalists, will come into effect on August 1.
“The intervention could not be delayed any longer,” Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said in a statement.
In recent weeks, as cruise ships returned to Venice after the pandemic-imposed break, protesters in the city have rallied on small boats and on the waterfront with ‘No Big Boats’ flags. Last Sunday, they demonstrated at the Group of 20 summit for economy ministers held in the city, drawing international media attention.
“My heartbeat is so fast I could have a heart attack,” Tommaso Cacciari, activist and spokesperson for the No Big Ship Committee, said in response to Tuesday’s announcement. “We’ve been fighting for 10 years, and now this victory is almost unbelievable.”
In April, Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government announced that it was planning to ban large cruise ships from the San Marco Basin, San Marco Canal and Giudecca Canal, but no ban date was given. has been fixed. Also, the ban was conditional on the construction of a new port where tourists could disembark to visit the city, a project that could take years.
Tuesday’s ruling removed that condition, so the ban could be enforced in weeks, not years.
Mr. Franceschini explained that the government had drafted the emergency decree to avoid “the real risk that the city will be inscribed on the black list of sites of” World Heritage in Danger “established by UNESCO, the cultural body of United Nations.
In 2019, UNESCO warned Venice of “damage caused by a constant flood of cruise ships”. Before a UNESCO World Heritage committee starting later this week that could have seen Venice added to the blacklist, the Italian government approved the decree making Venice’s waterways a national monument, a status generally accorded to works of art and historic buildings that place the lagoon under enhanced state protection. .
Over the past 10 years, Venice has been caught in a clash between those who represent the economic interests of cruise ship traffic – which employs thousands of people in the region – and others who want to protect a delicate environment from the gigantic ships that disgorging tourists en masse. .
The ban applies to vessels that are either heavier than 25,000 tonnes, longer than 180 meters (approximately 590 feet), higher than 35 meters (approximately 115 feet), or which use more than a defined amount of fuel to maneuver. The ban is such that even large yachts could be affected.
The government has also decided to empower the regional port authority to determine how five temporary docks can be built at Marghera, a nearby industrial port, while respecting maritime safety and environmental laws.
The intention to divert cruise ships to the port of Marghera raised eyebrows. The port is built for cargo ships and is not as picturesque as the city’s lagoon. In addition, the port channel is not wide and deep enough for most cruise ships and would require major construction work.
Among the many projects considered by governments over the years, one envisioned a permanent passenger terminal at the Lido entrance to the lagoon. The activists considered the best solution for the city and for the cruise industry.
Draghi’s cabinet also proposed on Tuesday to establish compensation for shipping companies that will be affected by the ban and for other businesses linked to cruise ship traffic within the lagoon.
“This is a positive decision and could be the start of a new era,” said Francesco Galietti, national director of the Cruise Lines International Association. He added that the association has been requesting temporary reception sites in Marghera since 2012.
The cruise industry is hopeful, Galietti said, that the new docking sites would be ready in 2022, when tourists are expected to return to cruises in droves. This year, only 20 liners were expected in Venice.