Misleading campaign against proposal for new cruise ship Contorta canal in Venice

A campaign has been gathering support against the dredging of a new canal in Venice since 8 August, 2014. On that date, a national government committee decided in favour of creating the new canal to re-route cruise ships through Venice. However, an environmental impact assessment is set to be conducted before 6 November 2014, which provides campaigners with an opportunity to challenge the new canal’s construction. The campaign against the canal is framed as being for science against politics and for the local environment:
New route for Venice cruise ships would damage the lagoon

As we explain below, the reality is very different. It is especially important to note that the campaign against the new canal follows a previous campaign to ban large cruise ships from passing through St Mark’s basin, in front of St Mark’s Square.

Reducing the passage of ships through St Mark’s basin would be achieved by re-routing them through the new canal to the Maritime Station in the city. This would require dredging the new canal 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:
New ship channel

Restrictions were imposed on large cruise ships in Venice in November 2013 by the previous national government, although rejected by a local court as explained in this previous blogpost:

These restrictions followed many well-publicised protests against cruise ships navigating the Venetian lagoon and particularly passing in front of St Mark’s Square. Most of these protests were organised by the “No Big Ships” committee. Some of these recent protests were reported previously on this blog and can be reviewed here:
Negative demonstrations against cruise ships in Venice

Italy’s government assessed whether to dredge this channel while various alternatives were considered. These alternatives included creating new cruise ship docking facilities outside the lagoon or at the industrial zone on the mainland side of the lagoon at Marghera. 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 for a substantial period of time when they dock and are noisy and disruptive for residents who live nearby. This happens when cruise ships 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:

When the previous government met in November 2013, it 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. In the short-term, cruise ships should continue to navigate through St Mark’s basin instead of embracing unsubstantial safety fears and because they have less environmental impact than thousands of journeys by 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 to develop alternative docking services. These options would be more beneficial for the people and environment of Venice than re-routing cruise ships and dredging the new canal.

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, travelling 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). The development of such anti-mass tourist sentiments have helped move the current Italian government to back plans to charge day trippers entry to Venice, which would be highly likely to reduce the number of visitors (especially poorer tourists):
Outcry over plan to charge Venice day trippers

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, it is extremely unlikely that ship captains would make the same mistake in Venice because they rarely have control over their cruise ships while in the Venetian Lagoon. Instead, cruise ships are guided through channels dug into the Venetian lagoon by pilots from the local navigation command who join each ship as it enters the lagoon. Tugs also pull ships to help with tricky manoeuvres. So cruise ships cannot stray and crash into ancient monuments in St Mark’s Square or other parts of the city. Ironically, the campaign against cruise ships passing St Mark’s Square back fired and led to the government’s support for dredging the new canal to re-route vessels.

Limitations on the size and number of cruise ships in Venice are not an alternative. They would have a negative impact on the Venetian economy and will restrict income for Venetians. They 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:

4 Responses to “Misleading campaign against proposal for new cruise ship Contorta canal in Venice”
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  3. […] After years of debate about different scenarios for cruise ships navigating the Venetian Lagoon, it was decided that within three or four years a new cruise ship terminal will be constructed in the mainland industrial zones near the town of Marghera. It is hoped that this new terminal will be able to accommodate the largest, new generation cruise ships of 200,000 tons. However, any cruise ship over 55,000 tons will have to dock here and will not be able to pass through St Mark’s Basin in the centre of Venice. Instead, these vessels will enter the Malamocco inlet between the lagoon and the sea and will navigate through the Petrol Channel (see link at end of this blog for map) to the new terminal. Previously, this channel was predominantly used for oil tankers navigating to and from the oil refinery in the Marghera industrial area. Alessandro Ferro, the Mayor of Chioggia (near Venice), voted on the Comitatone committee against the proposals for bigger cruise ships to navigate through the channel, stating “they must widen the petrol channel”. It may also be possible for medium sized vessels to navigate from the new cruise ship terminal at Marghera to the Maritime Station Port in central Venice through the Vittorio Emanuele Channel. This decision will depend on an Environmental Impact Assessment already ordered. Smaller cruise ships and other vessels below 55,000 tons will be able to continue navigating through the centre of Venice and St. Mark’s Basin, entering and leaving the lagoon through the Lido inlet. They will continue to be able to dock at the Maritime Station Port and other docking points in the centre of the city, which was considered important to protect local jobs at these locations. Inevitably, the new cruise ship terminal and transporting passengers between it and Venice by boat or road will lead to new jobs for these operations and in the construction of the new terminal. In addition, it was positive that the committee gave the go-ahead for the offshore platform for commercial and container traffic where larger vessels can transfer their goods onto small vessels before they enter the lagoon. This was previously explained in this blog post; https://dstandish.com/2014/11/12/definitive-layout-presented-for-offshore-platform-for-venice/ Environmentalists and local campaigners reacted angrily to the latest decisions about Venice and its lagoon. “The worst possible project has been chosen”, commented Luciano Mazzolin of the campaigning committee “No Big Ships in Venice”.  This committee had called for all cruise ships to be banished from the Venetian Lagoon, especially since the Costa Concordia cruise ship crash in January 2012 near Tuscany, as discussed in this previous blog post; https://dstandish.com/2014/08/21/misleading-campaign-against-proposal-for-new-cruise-ship-canal-in-v… […]

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