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No, Venice hasn't just banned cruise ships from its lagoon

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No, Venice hasn't just banned cruise ships from its lagoon
Are giant cruise ships about to disappear from Venice? Don't bet on it. Photo: AFP
09:07 CEST+02:00
It's been widely reported that Venice will be “banning” cruise ships starting next month. Here's why that's not actually happening - and why it wouldn't solve Venice's problems.
On Wednesday, Italian transport minister Danilo Toninelli told a parliamentary hearing that giant cruise ships could be diverted away from Venice's centre, where many currently dock.

The minister's suggestion involved rerouting one-third of all cruise ships from the city's central Marittima terminal to other nearby ports.

He said diversions could potentially begin as early as September this year.

The minister's statement on the issue this week sparked panicky headlines in international media, with many news reports implying that cruise holiday plans will be disrupted by an impending total ban on cruise ships docking in the city.

But such reports are completely baseless, as for now the idea of diverting some of the ships is nothing more than that: an idea.

“Nothing will change,” says Hans Schrama, blogger at Avoid-Crowds.com. “Cruise ships have not (yet) been diverted."

"Despite massive media attention, Toninelli didn’t actually ban a single ship. He voiced nothing more than plans during a transport committee meeting.”

Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

“There is no law that bans ships. There is no ‘executive order’ that bans ships. So far, Toninelli has done nothing more than make a statement,“ Schrama adds.

In fact, this government meeting was just the first in a long series of planned discussions on the issue.

Italian authorities have been under renewed pressure to remove the cruise liners from Venice after a terrifying incident earlier this year, when a 13-deck cruise ship crashed into a wharf in the city, sending tourists running for their lives

Weeks later, a 12-storey liner narrowly avoided hitting a yacht during a storm.

VIDEO: Venice cruise ship nearly crashes during storm

These incidents revived long-running protests against large cruise ships docking in central Venice.

The rising number of monster cruise liners raises concerns about environmental damage – including acid rain and damage to aquatic species - as well as air pollution putting the health of city residents at risk

Cruise ships are also widely seen as the biggest contributor to the city's issues with mass tourism, as they often disgorge thousands of day trippers at a time - who are accused of contributing little to the local economy.

Problems with overcrowding have led the city to experiment with ideas ranging from people-counting machines to the introduction of entry fees and advance booking.

READ ALSO: Italy's 'art cities' are attracting more visitors than ever. But can they cope?

Even if the minister's idea is adopted offically in future, experts say it wouldn't address the city's pressing problems with overtourism and damage to its fragile ecosystem - since the cruise liners would still be docking in Venice.

“If cruise ships are actually banned from arriving at the terminal, they will be forced elsewhere but will remain in the area. Cruise passengers will continue to find their way to Venice’s centre,” says Schrama.

“All mentioned alternative docking locations are within the metropolitan region of Venice.”

One frequently-mentioned alternative port, Fusina, is “so closely located to the city centre that passengers will arrive in Venice within no time,” Schrama explains.

“Meanwhile, other options mentioned in the news, such as Lido, Chioggia or Lombardia, are all within or at the outskirts of the Venetian lagoon.”

And this won't be happening within a month's time.

Schrama says that these “alternative” ports are currently unable to accept cruise ships, and that it would take “large investments” to make that possible.

“Any tourist that has ever visited Lido or Chioggia knows that these are not viable alternatives and far from ready to receive even a medium sized ship,” he says.

Not only are there some serious practical issues with what the minister is suggesting, but the deep-rooted problems faced by Venice won't be solved by simply banning cruise ships.

Campaigners in Venice compared the minister's idea to moving deckchairs on the Titanic – or “changing the position of the buffet when we're running out of food.”

“I'm still as worried as I ever was,” says Jane Da Mosto, founder and executive director of local conservation group We Are Here Venice.

“There's a climate emergency. And yet, the Italian government and the cruise industry are talking only about moving these enormous, very environmentally challenging floating cities from one part of Venice to another.”

Da Mosto argues that politicians should really be focusing on "creating stringent environmental performance standards for the cruise industry” and building “economically viable alternatives to mass tourism.”

There have been various announcements of bans on cruise ships in Venice by politicians over the years.

Italy's previous government's plan to move liners weighing over 55,000 tons out of central Venice was officially approved in 2017, with measures set to come into force by 2021. But Toninelli dismissed this solution after his Five Star Movement party came to power last year.

The government before that also announced a similar plan to rid the city of cruise ships back in 2013.

As mega cruise liners continue to dock by St Mark's Square, it looks like the latest government announcement on the issue will make no difference at all.

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