The debate over whether or not cruise ships should be allowed in Venice is long-running. Though the internet was awash with news just months ago about cruise ships being banned, reports have now emerged suggesting the rent-a-crowd giants are still operating in Venice.
As the BBC reported in April, “The country’s culture minister said the decision [to ban cruise ships] came in response to a request from UN cultural body Unesco.”
“Large ships will now have to dock at the city’s industrial port until a permanent solution is found,” he added.
However, ships are yet to stop going up and down the famed Giudecca Canal.
CNN Travel likewise reported that, after months of deliberation, on March the 31st, 2021, the Italian government, “Issued a decree that would see cruise ships and large commercial vessels banned from the Venetian lagoon, and calling for tenders to be sought to construct a new port outside the lagoon.”
Yet, bizarrely, just two weeks later, “MSC Cruises announced that the MSC Orchestra would be heading up the Giudecca Canal, gliding past St Mark’s Square and docking in the city-center port on June 5,” CNN Travel also reports.
“MSC’s two ships for this season will be joined by one from Costa Cruises. The Costa Deliziosa will use Venice as its homeport from June 26,” (CNN Travel).
CNN Travel were not alone in noticing this. The Art Newspaper wrote the following on April the 29th: “Early this month, the world’s media, including The Art Newspaper, reported a decree by the Italian government banning cruise ships of more than 40,000 tonnes from sailing through the city. They are to enter the lagoon by another opening and moor at the commercial port of Marghera—a temporary measure, we are told, while feasibility studies are conducted on building a port for them outside the lagoon.”
“But just as I am sharpening my pen to write what an unsatisfactory solution even this is, I discover the president of the Veneto region, Luca Zaia, is rejoicing that the first two cruise ships since lockdown are coming to Venice and—lo and behold—nothing changes. They will still enter at the Lido, steer towards the Doge’s Palace and St Mark’s basilica, and then turn left down the Giudecca Canal.”
“The excuse: the port at Marghera is not ready for them.”
Not everyone is against cruise ships though. The industry creates jobs (an estimated 4,200 or so), according to figures provided to CNN from the port, and it currently has the backing of the likes of Andrea Tomaello, deputy mayor of Venice.
“Cruises are extremely important for us,” Tomaello told CNN Travel. “The port generates income for our city, and it’s a quality income – cruise passengers spend, and stay longer in town.”
He told CNN Travel that in 2018 – the last year of normal cruising, since in 2019 Venice was hit by devastating floods – 1.8 million odd passengers moved through Venice, spending about €55 million (AUD $86 million).
Crucially, and most interestingly, given cruise ship passengers have a reputation as leeches who suck in the sights but spend little money, preferring to eat and be entertained for free on the boats they have already payed for, Tomaello claims that because Venice is Italy’s biggest homeport, passengers are more likely to stay in the city before or after their cruise, and fly into the local airport.
Those on the other side of the fence remain far from convinced. As one anti-cruise ship campaigner and environmental scientist – Jane da Mosto – told CNN Travel, “The problem is that the politicians in Rome who have the power to make these decisions are out of touch with the reality and complexity of Venice’s relationship to the lagoon.”
“In the meantime, Venice is crumbling.”
The difference cruise ships make to the city was highlighted last year as tourism came to an abrupt halt due to the pandemic.
As The Australian reported at the time: “The usual summer hell has not descended, because the cruise ships — which have poured a large part of the estimated 30 million people each year into what is, in effect, a living museum with a permanent population of just 260,000 — no longer tower over the palazzi and churn up the lagoon, in the process causing damage to the delicate fabric of the city.”
Those in support of cruise ships argue they bring in enough money to justify this damage (and believe there are good solutions to it). Those against them argue they don’t (and there aren’t).
As for where they dock: the Italian government and UNESCO want a port built outside the city, which local authorities fear would make the cruise experience less sought after by tourists (and would be expensive to build). Meanwhile, local authorities want to make the current temporary Marghera solution (which is where the commercial port is already located) permanent, which would at least stop ships having to cruise past the Giudecca Canal.
This idea, which has been kicking around for a while, has been embraced as a step forward by some, but environmentalists say it still doesn’t solve the problem with Marghera still being within the lagoon, albeit on the mainland.
The cruise ship industry, meanwhile, is growing frustrated, and maintains it will do as its bid.
Francesco Galietti, who represents the industry as director of trade body Cruise Lines International Association Italy (CLIA), has said that cruise lines “have supported the relocation of cruise ships from the Giudecca Canal since 2012.”
“CLIA has been working with authorities in Rome and Venice to alleviate traffic in Venice and take big ships off the Giudecca. We are aware that the transit of cruise ships is controversial and have always tried to be part of the solution.”
The only thing everyone seems to be in agreement on is that cruise ships shouldn’t swan down the Giudecca Canal in front of St Mark’s anymore.
This won’t change though, likely, until August, when local authorities are set to have the first temporary mooring at industrial area Marghera ready for cruise ships to use.
So much for 2020 being the travel industry’s phoenix moment…