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Italy bans cruise ships from the Venice lagoon from 1 August

Unesco and citizen action groups have campaigned for the move for years

The protest on 5 June was immortalised in an image by Michele Gallucci that went round the world of Jane Da Mosto, founder of We Are Here Venice, rowing her little boat under the bow of the vast cruise ship © Michele Gallucci (@sailordreamer78)

On 13 July the Italian ministry of development and sustainable transport (Ministero dello sviluppo e Mobilitá Sostenibili) passed a decree banning all cruise ships of more than 25,000 tonnes and longer than 180m from entering Venice by the Giudecca canal as from 1 August. All larger cruise ships will have to relocate to other ports in the Adriatic until the industrial port at Marghera inside the lagoon has been adapted to take up to five of them at a time, for which €157m has been voted. This work is expected to be complete in 2022.

With this decree the government is proving that it means business and will not allow local considerations to flout its decisions, as happened on 5 June when a cruise ship entered Venice despite its previous decree against them in April. It is probably also in reaction to Unesco’s threat to put Venice on its endangered list at the meeting of the Committee for the World Heritage sites in Fuzhou this 15 to 23 July.

Citizen action groups such as No alle Grande Navi and We are Here Venice, which have campaigned against these vast and potentially damaging intrusions into the city for years, have scored an unprecedented victory in a context where their views have been repeatedly ignored.

The government has made clear that the use of the port of Marghera is only to be a temporary solution and last month published the terms of the competition for the design of a new port outside the lagoon. The authority for the system of ports in the northern Adriatic (Autorità di Sistema Portuale del Mare Adriatico Settentrionale) stipulates that the new port must be able to operate in bad weather; it must connect with the European road-rail network from the Baltic to the Adriatic, from the Scandinavian countries to the Mediterranean, and in the Mediterranean countries; it must be able to take trans-continental container ships, and must be sustainable ecologically, visually and environmentally. All information about existing projects for an extra-lagoon port will be shared with competitors. The deadline for the competition is 31 December 2021, to be judged by five experts in engineering, port management, infrastructure, transport, and transport economics with the winner to be announced by 30 June 2023.

The risk is that between now and 2023 the government changes and the port of Marghera becomes the permanent cruise ship port by default, a situation which ecologists and the citizen action groups strongly oppose because of the damage to the structure of the lagoon that these ships will cause because their passage requires frequent deep-dredging of the canal linking Marghera with the Adriatic.