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 downside of mass tourism.
The ban, demanded 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 have returned to Venice after the pandemic-enforced hiatus, protesters in the city have gathered on small boats and on the waterfront with “No Big Boats” flags. Last Sunday, they demonstrated at the G20 summit for economy ministers held in the city, attracting international media attention.
“My heartbeat is so fast I could have a heart attack,” Tommaso Cacciari, an activist and spokesman for the No Big Ship Committee, said in response to Tuesday’s announcement. “We’ve been fighting for 10 years, and now this win seems almost unbelievable.”
In April, Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government announced plans to ban large cruise ships from the San Marco Basin, San Marco Canal and Giudecca Canal, but no date has been set. for the ban. Moreover, 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 decision removed that condition, so the ban could be enforced in weeks, not years.
Mr Franceschini explained that the government drafted the urgent decree to avoid “the real risk of the city being blacklisted from”World Heritage in Danger” sites established by UNESCO, the cultural agency of the United Nations.
In 2019, UNESCO warned Venice of “damage caused by a constant flow 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 has approved the decree making Venice’s waterways a national monument, a status usually given to works of art. art and historic buildings that places 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 traffic – which employs thousands of people in the region – and others who want to protect a delicate environment from the gigantic boats that disgorge tourists in droves. .
The ban applies to ships that weigh more than 25,000 tons, more than 180 meters (about 590 feet), more than 35 meters (about 115 feet) or use more than a set 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 quays can be built in Marghera, a nearby industrial port, while respecting maritime safety and environmental laws.
The intention to divert cruise ships to the port of Marghera has raised eyebrows. The port is built for cargo ships and is not as scenic as the city’s lagoon. Additionally, the harbor channel is not wide and deep enough for most cruise ships and would require significant construction.
Of the many projects considered by governments over the years, one envisaged a permanent passenger terminal at the entrance of the Lido of the lagoon. Activists saw it as the best solution for the city and for the cruise industry.
Draghi’s cabinet also proposed on Tuesday to establish compensation for the shipping companies that will be affected by the ban and for other companies linked to cruise traffic inside the lagoon.
“It’s a positive decision and it 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 asking for the temporary mooring sites in Marghera since 2012.
The cruise industry hopes, Galietti said, that the new docking sites will be ready in 2022, when tourists are expected to return to cruises in droves. This year, only 20 liners were to arrive in Venice.