Veneto Court rejects national restrictions on cruise ships navigating Venice lagoon
The Veneto regional court (TAR) accepted a request to suspend restrictions on large cruise ships passing through the Venetian lagoon on 17 March 2014. The request had been submitted by the organisation Venice Terminal Passengers (VTP) that manages passengers for the Port of Venice, in addition to several companies working in the port and a committee representing cruise ship operators. This suspension will last until June 12 when there will be another court hearing and opportunities to appeal the decision.
The TAR judgment overturns restrictions on cruise ships passing through the Venetian lagoon agreed by national government ministers and local Venetian administrators on November 5, 2013. They had decided that from January 2013, the number of cruise ships travelling through Venetian waters and weighing over 40,000 tonnes must be reduced by 20% compared with 2012. From November 2014, there would have been an outright ban on cruise ships over 96,000 tonnes from crossing the Giudecca Canal and passing St Mark’s Square (see the map at the end of this article for locations). In addition, ferries were banned from passing through the basin in front of St Mark’s Square from 1 January 2014. Ferries previously represented approximately 1/4 of total traffic through this basin. Instead, ferries were required to pass down the established petrol canals to the new terminal at Fusina.
In theory, the judgement by the regional court against national restrictions means that cruise ships and ferries can navigate freely through the Venetian lagoon until the next court hearing in June. However, these vessels are currently unable to pass between the sea and the lagoon through the three inlets due to work being conducted for the construction of Venice’s mobile dams. From 23 November 2013 until 4 April 2014, cruise ships are unable to pass through the inlets to the lagoon due to this work. Information about this project can be accessed using this link:
Venice’s ‘MOSE’ mobile dams; First test for 4 barriers successful
During this period, cruise ships have been re-routed to the ports at the nearby cities of Trieste and Ravenna.
Nevertheless, this stage of the construction on the mobile dams is expected to be completed in April 2014. So the regional court’s decision might mean vessels can navigate between the sea and the lagoon once this work is finished until June. However, this will also depend on the reaction of Italy’s new national government. The new Minister of the Environment, Gian Luca Galletti, responded to the regional courts judgment by stating, “we respect the court but need a quick solution to avoid big ships navigating St Mark’s basin”.
The restrictions imposed in November 2013 by the previous national government followed many well-publicised protests against cruise ships navigating the Venetian lagoon and particularly passing in front of St Mark’s Square. Some of these recent protests were reported previously on this blog and can be reviewed here:
Negative demonstrations against cruise ships in Venice
Most of these protests were organised by the “No Big Ships” committee. In response to the regional court’s decision, the No Big Ships committee tweeted, “The TAR of the Veneto accepts the appeal of the cruise ship lobby”. Despite this, Silvio Testa, the leading spokesperson from the No Big Ships committee, heralded the suspension by TAR. Comments from this committee on the regional court’s decision were included in the article in the link below:
Protesters have realised that the previous government’s restrictions about changing cruise ship traffic in the Venetian Lagoon were likely to increase the disruption of the lagoon environment. This is because reducing the passage of ships through St Mark’s basin would have been achieved by re-routing them through a new channel to the Maritime Station in the city. This would require dredging the new channel over a 2 year period, which would disrupt sediments and water life in the lagoon. This channel is called Contorta Sant’Angelo Canal and its proposed location can be seen in the map below where the dotted line is:
Italy’s new government has set a period of 120 days to make a decision about whether to dredge this channel while various alternatives are considered. These alternatives include creating new cruise ship docking facilities outside the lagoon or at the industrial zone on the mainland side of the lagoon at Marghera. Indeed, when explaining its judgement to suspend the restrictions on vessels in the Venetian lagoon, the regional court stated that these restrictions had been imposed before alternatives were explored and had not respected the principle of graduality. The details of the court’s decision are set out in the article in the link below:
Giorgio Orsoni, Venice’s Mayor, commissioned a study to investigate establishing a new maritime port for cruise ships at Marghera. This proposal was outlined during a meeting on 2 October 2012 between the Mayor and representatives of the “No Big Ships” committee. 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 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.
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 which is too small and limited in the long-term.
Other suggestions for cruise ship docking facilities outside the lagoon at Lido have also been put forward by ex-Vice Minister of Transport, Cesare De Piccoli, and were set out here on 2 October 2013 in the newspaper Corriere del Veneto:
The previous government’s meeting in November 2013 held out that, in the long-term, a new port at Marghera and docking facilities outside the lagoon at Lido are still possible but unlikely before 2020. Similarly, the longer-term project to construct an offshore platform for cargo ships, but not cruise ships, is still an important possibility for transforming shipping in Venice, as discussed here:
New investment for innovative offshore platform to develop Venice’s port. Developing ferry docking at Fusina is also positive.
Instead of rejecting cruise ships and their passengers as problems, Venice needs modernising to embrace them as opportunities. The previous government’s announcements in November 2013 would have had a negative impact on the people and environment of Venice. Local and national politicians caved in to pressure from cruise ship opponents. In the short-term, cruise ships should continue to navigate through St Mark’s basin as there are no safety concerns and they have less environmental impact than other vessels. In the long-term, new docking facilities should be constructed at Marghera or outside the lagoon at the Lido, either of which would prevent the need to dredge the new Contorta Sant’Angelo Canal. The Maritime Station is too limited and this would allow time develop alternative docking services. These options would be more beneficial for the people and environment of Venice that the restrictions. The superficial claims of anti-cruise ship campaigners need challenging and politicians need to be persuaded to ignore them.
It is important to note that environmentalists and the big ship committee initially welcomed the restrictions on vessels navigating the Venetian lagoon when they were announced by the previous government. “We are banking on what is good about this decision in Rome, the first victory for our mobilisation that has taken the scandal of cruise ships in Venice to an international level”, declared Silvio Testa. “For the first time in 10 years a part of this traffic of sea monsters will be reduced”, celebrated Green Party Venice City Councillor and anti-cruise ship campaigner Beppe Caccia (both quoted in the newspaper Corriere del Veneto, 6 November 2013).
So why are environmental campaigners and many other green sympathisers confused about restrictions on cruise ships in Venice? Many opponents of cruise ships navigating the Venetian lagoon have not analysed scientific evidence about the environmental impact of vessels navigating the lagoon. If they had, they would find that the thousands of boat trips made by other vessels around the lagoon every day cause much more pollution and wave damage than cruise ships. Campaigners against cruise ships are not really objecting to their environmental impact.
Instead, there are three key components to the campaign against cruise ships in Venice. Firstly, opponents dislike the sight of modern cruise ships blocking and contrasting with their view of ancient buildings and monuments. This is why they particularly object to cruise ships passing close to Venice’s historical centre and especially navigating St Mark’s basin. This is an entirely subjective point of view. Some people enjoy the contrast of the ancient and the modern! Moreover, the ships only block the view for a few seconds before they move on.
Secondly, opponents of cruise ships particularly dislike the mass tourists who travel on them. Critical journalists have even resorted to comparing mass tourists in Venice to insects; “In May 2008, for example, on a holiday weekend, 80,000 tourists descended on the city like locusts on the fields of Egypt,” writes Cathy Newman in National Geographic Magazine (2009). Critics of cruise ships should be pleased that the November 2013 government announcements about restricting ships in Venice were also accompanied by suggestions to limit the number of tourists visiting the city using a ticketing system, as reported here: Venice, planning a ticket for tourists. We reject these suggestions as blocking freedom of movement and for their negative economic impact.
Finally, the anti-cruise ship campaign has manipulated safety fears. As I have argued in a previously published article (see this link: Riding the waves of a cruise crash), the campaign against cruise ships navigating the Venetian lagoon has piggybacked on the Costa Concordia cruise ship crash off Tuscany in January 2012. Yet the comparisons between cruise ships navigating the Venetian lagoon and the mistakes by the Costa Concordia captain that caused this crash are illegitimate. In particular, ship captains cannot make the same mistake in Venice because they do not have control over their cruise ships while in the Venetian Lagoon. Instead, tugs pull cruise ships through the Venetian lagoon as they are guided through channels dug into it. So cruise ships cannot stray and crash into ancient monuments in St Mark’s Square or other parts of the city.
Long-term limitations on the size and number of cruise ships will have a negative impact on the Venetian economy and will restrict income for Venetians. Specifically, the proposed restrictions would put approximately 2,500 jobs at risk, according to Sandro Trevisanato, President of VTP. This was reported here: Grandi navi fuori da Venezia: «Così si perdono 2553 posti di lavoro». Moreover, other local Venetian businesses would be likely to suffer a downturn in business; the primary sectors of employment growth in Venice over the last decade have been in tourist-related services.
We welcome cruise ships and their passengers to Venice as the modern version of the eighteenth century European and Venetian Grand Tour. However, in order to manage Venice’s development through expanding tourism new infrastructure is required.
This map illustrates the key places mentioned: