Mayor of Venice reveals possible new solution to cruise ship ‘problem’

Giorgio Orsoni, Venice’s Mayor, has revealed that he has commissioned a study to investigate establishing a new maritime port for cruise ships at Marghera, which is on the mainland side of the Venetian lagoon. This proposal was outlined during a meeting on 2 October 2012 between the Mayor and representatives of the “No Big Ships” committee, which campaigns against cruise ships navigating the Venetian lagoon. The details of the meeting were reported in the Venetian newspaper Il Gazzettino di Venezia on 3 October here:

The creation of a new cruise ship port at Marghera would mean that cruise ships could continue to navigate through the channels of the Venetian lagoon, but would not pass through the centre of Venice. Instead of entering the lagoon through its Lido inlet and passing through the San Marco basin in front of St Mark’s Square, cruise ships would enter the lagoon through the Malamocco inlet before docking at Marghera. Therefore, cruise ships would stay well away from Venice’s city centre, but dock close enough for passengers to reach the centre using other means of transport. This map illustrates the key places mentioned:

A new cruise ship port at Marghera would also suspend consideration of constructing cruise ship docking facilities outside the lagoon with connections to transport cruise ship passengers to and from Venice using smaller vessels. This idea was considered as part of the proposal for an offshore docking platform, but has not been included in the proposed design for this platform as explained here:

Other suggestions for cruise ship docking facilities outside the lagoon at Lido have also recently been put forward by Cesare De Piccoli and were set out here on 2 October in the newspaper Corriere del Veneto:

But Orsoni pointed out during the meeting on 2 October that cruise ship docking facilities along the littoral islands could create problems for the communities based on those islands at Lido and Pellestrina.

In addition, a new cruise ship port at Marghera could make it unnecessary to dig the proposed Contorta-Sant’Angelo channel through the lagoon. The digging of this channel was agreed with the national government to divert cruise ships away from passing close to St Mark’s Square in the aftermath of the Costa Concordia cruise ship crash near Tuscany in January 2012, even though cruise ships travel under very different circumstances in Venice than in the open sea (see my article about this here: Riding the waves of a cruise crash).

Campaigners against cruise ships have not been satisfied by the proposed Contorta-Sant’Angelo channel because cruise ships will continue to navigate the Venetian lagoon and they claim the digging of this channel will be environmentally damaging. Even though the Contorta-Sant’Angelo channel could be cancelled as a result of a new cruise ship port at Marghera, conservationists at Venice’s chapter of Italia Nostra responded critically because the new port would mean cruise ships continue to navigate within the lagoon:
Orsoni conferma: le navi dentro la laguna

We do not oppose the idea of a new cruise ship port at Marghera. Indeed, the development of cruise ship docking on the mainland side of the lagoon was endorsed in my book Venice in Environmental Peril? Myth and Reality (2012) to help improve shipping infrastructure in Venice. In contrast, Orsoni’s motivation for this new port is based on the assumption that Venetians perceive cruise ship traffic through the centre of Venice as a problem. “I am also aware that there are citizens who do not tolerate any more the passage of giant ships in the centre of their city,” stated Orsoni in the Venetian newspaper Il Gazzettino di Venezia on 3 October.

There was a very vocal protest against cruise ships in the Venetian lagoon on 16 September 2012. According to a report in Il Gazzettino di Venezia on 17 September 2012, this protest included about 100 small boats, representatives of campaigns against other projects (such as to stop high speed trains), and about 500 people on land as tourists mingled with protesters: Manifestazione_navi_Gazz.
Here is a four-minute film of the protest:

But how representative are these demonstrators of Venetian opinion? The No Big Ships committee has collected 12,500 signatures for a petition to ban big ships from the lagoon, although it is unclear if these are all signatures by Venetian citizens. Venice City Council recorded that on 30 June 2012, there were 58,606 citizens living in Venice’s historical city centre at present, with another 29,513 citizens on the outer islands and estuary, then 181,691 citizens on the mainland. This adds up to a total population in the Venice City Council area of 269,810: Movimento e calcolo della popolazione residente del Comune di Venezia al 30/06/2012

Certainly, there is a lot of publicity about fears regarding cruise ships in Venice. Yet, as outlined in my book and my article linked above, there is not compelling evidence that there is a high risk of cruise ships crashing in the centre of Venice. Moreover, they cause less pollution and wave damage than the thousands of smaller vessels that navigate the Venetian lagoon every day. The reaction against cruise ships travelling through Venice’s centre is based on a visual dislike of large emblems of modernity in a city that has rejected modernisation and become a haven for conservation. Finally, objections to cruise ships also express animosity towards cruise ship passengers as participants in mass tourism. However, Orsoni realises that cruise ship passengers now bring significant funds to Venice and are too fundamental to the Venetian economy to be shut out.

We welcome cruise ships and their passengers to Venice as the modern version of the eighteenth century European and Venetian Grand Tour. Nevertheless, in order to manage Venice’s development through expanding tourism new infrastructure is required. The new port proposal at Marghera would be positive because there is one negative aspect to cruise ships docking in Venice’s city centre: they sometimes block the view and are noisy and disruptive for residents who live nearby (especially when they do not dock in the Maritime Station). Instead of rejecting cruise ships and their passengers as problems, Venice needs modernising to embrace them as opportunities.

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