Monstrous cruise ships that ruin the view – and even block out the sun – for people strolling down Venice’s Giudecca Canal, will, from the end of November, no longer pass close to the lagoon city, cruise ship owners have pledged.
From that date vessels weighing over 96,000 tonnes will eschew the route that currently sees them pass close to St Mark’s Square, while, according to campaigners who want them banned, unleashing huge currents that threatens to undermine Venice’s delicate foundations.
The Cruise Lines International Association made the pledge during talks on Thursday with Italy’s Transport and Environment Ministers.
The development follows a confused situation in which a government decree last year appeared to ban the vessels, only to be challenged by a regional court in March.
After Thursday’s meeting, the Environment Minister, Gianluca Galletti, said: “We will proceed in a very short time with the choice of an alternative solutions that respects the environment and the tourism economy.”
Paolo Costa, the president of the Port of Venice, said: “I am pleased that the cruise ship companies have agreed to accept voluntary traffic restrictions.”
Mr Costa also welcomed ministers’ pledge to approve new routes that would allowed the biggest cruises ships to serve the city without passing by Saint Mark’s Square. He said that such a compromise that would not cause too much damage to the cruise lines or the local economy.
The agreement will also see a reduction in the number of cruise liners weighing over 40,000 tonnes that enter Giudecca Canal.
Over 650 cruise ships pass through the city annually, with protests by local people and environmentalists building in recent years. These protests gained momentum in 2012 when the 140,000-tonne MSC Divina gained the dubious title of being largest liner ever to enter the lagoon city.
No Big Ships Venice Committee, a local protest group, noted that the giant vessel produced as much pollution in an hour as 15,000 cars. In addition, the fumes contained 15 times as much sulphur as road vehicle emissions. The acid nature of the pollution is thought to be potentially speeding up the erosion of the city’s medieval buildings, which are already sinking into the lagoon. Environmentalists have long warned that the lagoon surrounding Venice, itself a Unesco heritage site, is also at great risk.
As part of the latest agreement, cruise ship operators are committed to not using fuel with more than 0.1 per cent sulphur.
The Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi said the alternative route around Venice for the biggest cruise liners would be decided at a cabinet meeting next week. This prompted an angry response from the Mayor of Venice, Giorgio Orsoni, who said the citizens of Venice and their local representatives should have been more involved.
Mr Orsoni told the Adnkronos news agency that an environmental impact assessment was needed, and he predicted “nasty surprises” ahead for the government if it failed to abide by such a report.