Venice and Cruise Ships: A Delicate Balance

There are two main proposals: rerouting vessels toward Marghera, the lagoon’s main commercial port on the mainland, or building a port outside of the lagoon.

The problem with Marghera, said a representative of Venice’s Port Authority, is that “it’s a commercial port for containers, it’s not built for passengers.” Also, since Marghera is inside the lagoon, critics say that rerouting cruise ships there will do little to contain environmental damages.

As for building another port altogether: On April 1, Italy’s government approved the allocation of funds for a feasibility study for such a project. But the process of developing the plans for the project alone is expected to last until mid 2022, the Port Authority said, leaving little hope that a new port would provide a solution in the short or even medium term.

Halting cruise traffic until a new port is ready would take an economic toll. Before the pandemic, the cruise industry employed, directly and indirectly, 4,200 people in the area, according to the Port Authority, and brought revenues of 280 million euro (over $332 million), although most of that money does not go to Venice’s historical center.

In the meantime, UNESCO is getting impatient. Last month the agency released a report urging Italy’s government to prioritize “the option of banning large ships from the Lagoon altogether” and to set a time frame to “temporarily reroute ships” toward Marghera or elsewhere.

The agency also announced on the same day that it is considering adding Venice to its list of endangered World Heritage sites. “The recommendations for inscription on the UNESCO List of World Heritage in Danger are not sanctions but alerts to find solutions,” a representative for the agency said in an email statement, mentioning “mass tourism, especially with the presence of cruise ships” as one of the organization’s concerns.

But several government officials, speaking anonymously because Italy’s factitious coalition government is divided on the topic, said they’re feeling pressured by UNESCO and, more broadly, by the negative publicity Venice received when cruise ships returned after the pandemic. Recent protests have brought the attention of the international media on the issue, and Venice is hosting a G20 summit between July 8 and 11.

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