VENICE, Italy – Cruise lines said Thursday their biggest ships would give Venice a wide berth from November 30 after a long-running row about their effect on the delicate lagoon city. The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) made the vow after a meeting with Italian culture, environment and transport ministers. In the latest episode in the long saga, Italy’s leading environmental group last month accused a regional court of recklessness for suspending a ban on large cruise ships in Venice’s fragile lagoon. “It is certainly not a good sign, and it is the result of a reckless choice of recent years that has created the practice of channelling cruise ships in an environment where they should be banned,” said Legambiente.
A day before, on March 16, a regional administrative court agreed to suspend the ban submitted by companies operating in the port of Venice, including members of the cruise ship industry, which is a major employer in the local tourism-driven economy. The ban was imposed late last year as a response to the crash of the Costa Concordia cruise ship off the Tuscan island of Giglio, which killed 32 people and inflicted severe environmental and archeological damage. Similar limits had already been enacted in every other port city in Italy after the wreck, where the cruise-ship industry carries less influence. The regional administrative court said the ban in Venice was inappropriate due to a lack of alternate routes for large cruise ships. The issue will be reopened at a hearing in June.
“Now the government must hurry up and find solutions and take immediate measures for the good of the city and the lagoon ecosystem,” said Legambiente. “Port operations must be reworked, moving the home port to (the nearby town of) Marghera, far from the fragile heart of the city…giving a new future to the city”. Environmentalists have long warned that the lagoon surrounding Venice, itself a UNESCO heritage site, is at great risk. Other experts warn that the thousand-year-old underwater wooden piles that prop up the city would crumble like toothpicks under the weight of a 114,500-ton cruise ship like the Costa Concordia. In addition, liners ushering tourists into the heart of the city disrupt the extremely fragile foundation of Venice and its medieval monuments by displacing massive amounts of water in the shallow lagoon.
Over 650 cruise ships pass through the city annually. The ban would tighten daily limits on cruise liners, with no more than five ships over 40,000 tonnes allowed passage, obliging many ships to find alternative docking outside the city itself.