Cruising Set to Resume in the Heart of Venice, Despite Government Ban

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Published Apr 15, 2021 7:08 PM by The Maritime Executive

Last month, the Italian government announced that cruise ships will be temporarily banned from Venice's city center and will be diverted to the nearby industrial port of Marghera, within the Venice lagoon. However, the fine print appears to be more nuanced: cruise ships will continue to call at Venice's central city Marittima terminal until a reception facility at Marghera is ready. This means that controversial cruise transits through the Giudecca Canal - past the famous St. Mark's Square in the heart of the city - will start again this summer.

On Wednesday, MSC confirmed that the cruise ships MSC Orchestra and MSC Magnifica will be home-ported for cruises out of Venice beginning in late June, departing from the Stazione terminal. The 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," according to MSC Cruises CEO Gianni Onorato. 

Local government leaders welcomed the news. "MSC confirms the cruises and I thank the company because it is a good sign of recovery. It is obvious that we are fully hoping to be able to get to Marghera but in the meantime we are retarting with two ships," said the president of the Veneto region, Luca Zaia, at a press conference Wednesday. "Venice is now deserted, but it will go back to being what it was before."

"MSC has confirmed to me the cruises [from] Venice. We start with two ships," said Venice's mayor, Luigi Brugnaro in a social media post. "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."

Cruise ship calls have been a source of controversy in Venice for many years. Critics blame the wash from cruise ships for contributing to Venice's flooding problems, and they object to air pollution from stack emissions and overcrowding from the discharge of thousands of cruise passengers. 

On March 25, Italy's ministers for the environment, culture, tourism, and infrastructure announced a temporary decree to send cruise ships to the industrial port of Marghera, diverting the vessels away from the city center "in order to protect a historical-cultural heritage." They announced an upcoming competition for alternative berthing arrangements in order to receive cruise ships without requiring a transit through the lagoon. 

However, the announcement did not include the news that the ban will not apply in June, and it came as a surpise to some Venetian citizens. "Two weeks from the enactment of the [ban] . . . we learn that in the next few weeks cruises will resume their landing in Venice, with the passage to the Giudecca Canal," wrote anti-cruise activists Comitato NoGrandiNavi in a Facebook post.