Today, Venice enacts its recently announced ban on ships and cruise liners weighing over 25,000 tons, or measuring over 180 meters (590 feet) long, entering the city’s shallow Giudecca Canal that flows past Piazza San Marco.
Starting today, only small passenger ferries and freight vessels are authorized to sail in the delicate environment of the lagoon city’s historic center.
The Italian government seems to have urgently passed the measure just over two weeks ago to avoid jeopardizing its UNESCO World Heritage site status, since the United Nations agency was considering adding Venice to its “World Heritage in Danger” “endangered” list during the 44th session of the World Heritage Committee.
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According to an RFI report, the government said that it had decided to ban large ships from Venice’s fragile lagoon in order to, “protect the environmental, artistic and cultural heritage of Venice, declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO.”
UNESCO had already expressed concern in recent years about the detrimental impact of overtourism, and cruise activity in particular, on the ancient city’s structures and the vulnerable ecosystem of the lagoon itself. It also noted how the historic center’s deteriorations could be compounded by the effects of climate change and extreme weather events.
The city’s frustrated residents have themselves been campaigning to divert cruise ships away from the lagoon for years, frequently staging protests at the arrival of massive cruise vessels.
After an MSC cruise liner in the Giudecca Canal smashed into a Venice dock, along with a Uniworld riverboat, in June 2019, the call for action was amplified. “Today’s accident in the port of Venice proves that cruise ships shouldn’t be allowed to pass down the Giudecca anymore,” Italian Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli, said at the time. Yet, no practicable solutions emerged.
Two more years went by and, when the first post-pandemic passenger cruise ship sailed into the historic center in early June—despite the Italian government’s supposed ban on large vessels that was said to have been passed in March—it was met by hundreds of protesters and drew outside scrutiny.
The government then identified the nearby mainland industrial port of Marghera, with its existing industrial docks and new construction already in the planning stages, as a temporary solution that’s outside of the lagoon until more long-term arrangements can be made.
There are those who argue that the livelihoods of many Venetian citizens continue to rely upon the cruise industry, though the government has reportedly said that it would compensate businesses and workers affected by the new ban.