Italian Cabinet Approves Ban on Cruise Ships Docking in Venice

Italy bans cruise ships from Venice
MSC Orchestra navigating Venice's famed canals (@cQIX/Twitter)

Published Jul 13, 2021 3:21 PM by The Maritime Executive

After years of discussion and several previous failed attempts, the Italian government has once again said that it is banning all large cruise ships from sailing in Venice’s historic canals. The action came just days before the UN’s heritage organization UNESCO was due to begin considering adding Venice to a list of endangered treasures, but leaves the cruise ships without a terminal for their operations.

The decree approved today, July 13, by the Italian cabinet bans all the large cruise ships from sailing along the famed Giudecca Canal that leads through the heart of the city passing Piazza San Marco before the cruise ships arrive at their current terminal near Venice’s train station. All ships over 25,000 gross tons are barred from the canal, but the act permits smaller ferries and supply ships carrying cargo from the mainland to still use the port. 

"I am proud of a commitment that had been honored," Tweeted Culture Minister Dario Franceschini shortly after the vote. 



The debate over cruise ships returning to Venice intensified this spring as the famed tourist city continues to struggle with flooding. Critics argued that the return of the cruise ships after the industry’s COVID-19 pause would only worsen the environmental damage in the city. In March, Italy announced that it was reimposing a ban on large cruise ships from the city’s canals, but weeks later rescinded the order when it became clear that the issue of an alternative port for the large ships remained to be resolved.

The recent initiatives called for the large cruise ships to divert from Venice to the nearby industrial port of Marghera. While the port remains inside the lagoon and is close to the city to provide the cruise passengers access to the tourist sites, it does not require the large cruise ships to sail into the city’s canals. However, after the act was passed in the spring, the cruise industry objected highlighting that Marghera was unable to handle the large ships. The port lacks a terminal building and will require upgrades to its infrastructure that engineers said would require a year to complete.

As part of the new decree, the government said it would form a commission to speed the efforts to develop alternative docking arrangements for the large cruise ships. The commissioner will be charged with accelerating the arrangements in Marghera, while at the end of June, Italy also called for proposals to develop a new terminal in the area to serve the cruise ships. Estimates are that the process would require at least two years to develop plans for a new cruise terminal.

Local businesses have been critical of the government’s action saying it was only in response to environmentalists. They highlighted that the city’s flood and environmental issues continued in 2020 while the cruise ships were idled. To address the concerns of the workers who supported the cruise ships during their calls to the port, the decree provides for lay-off benefits for the longshoremen and others impacted by the ban.

MSC Cruises had been the first cruise line to return to Venice in 2021. With the alternate port not yet prepared, MSC Cruises announced that it was resuming cruises from Venice at the beginning of June. Its 92,400 gross ton MSC Orchestra was met by protestors, but the cruises have continued.