Venice ban on large cruise ships turns out not to be such a ban after all

A highly trumpeted “ban” on cruise ships calling at a port in the middle of Venice has turned out to be less of a prohibition than was first thought.

On March 25th Italy’s ministers for the environment, culture, tourism, and infrastructure announced a temporary decree to send cruise ships to the (rather less scenic) industrial port of Marghera, diverting the vessels away from the city centre “in order to protect a historical-cultural heritage.”

That announcement, which led readers to infer that the decree would come into immediate effect, did not mention that the ban would not apply in June 2021.

Cruise ships would continue to call at Venice’s central city Marittima terminal until a yet-to-be-constructed reception facility at Marghera was ready. Therefore the controversial cruise transits, through the Giudecca Canal and past St Mark’s Square, would start again this summer.

Last week MSC confirmed that the cruise ships MSC Orchestra and MSC Magnifica would be home-ported for cruises out of Venice beginning in late June, departing from the Stazione terminal. These sailings are part of a large tranche of newly-announced EU departure dates for MSC, reflecting new “clarity on which European destinations and ports will initially be open this summer,” said MSC Cruises CEO Gianni Onorato.

The conflict over the desirability of port calls in central Venice runs deep. While all stakeholders accept that the long-term environmental effect of ever-larger cruise ships turning up in the heart of Venice is undesirable, there is much disagreement as to whether the change should take place now, or “as soon as possible” or at some unspecified time in the future.

Local government leaders welcomed the news. Veneto region president Luca Zaia said last week that “Venice is now deserted, but it will go back to being what it was before”, also stating that “it is obvious that we are fully hoping to be able to get to Marghera, but in the meantime we are restarting with two ships”.

Venice’s mayor Luigi Brugnaro also called the MSC statement to be “good news for the city and a sign of recovery for the tourism sector that allows us to look to the future with hope and courage.” However, other stakeholders have claimed that the wash from cruise ships contributes to Venice’s flooding problems, that they increase air pollution from stack emissions, and result in bottleneck overcrowding when thousands of cruise passengers all descend on Venizian tourist hotspots during a short period of time