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Debate over large ships in Venice rages on, as new plan emerges

by Jacopo Giliberto

With the arrivals and departures of cruise ships throughout the summer, the debate over having large ships in Venice has reopened once again. Here’s the latest proposal: keeping the largest ships out of the historic city center, and sending them to Marghera. This plan will be discussed at the Ministry of Infrastructures and Transportation over the next few days.

Over the course of the last weekend of June 2017 and the beginning of July, Venice’s port has seen the arrivals and departures of ten gargantuan, cumbersome cruise ships, which occupied all of the port’s available moorings. Venice is a “home port,” a port intended for boarding and disembarking—not a stop-over for cruise ships. To give you an idea of the size comparisons, among the other major cruise ship ports Barcelona has nine moorings and Civitavecchia has eight.

In just two days, the ten ships amassed between the Molino Stucky, the Dogana, and the Palladian columns at the San Giorgio Maggiore church amounted to tens of thousands of photos and tens of thousands of comments made by shocked tourists who were face-to-face with these naval colossuses. Thus, Mayor Luigi Brugnaro decided to hasten the Government’s and the Port Authority’s plan to remove these embarrassing eyesores from the eyes of international tourists: let’s send them to Marghera.

That is to say, an entirely different part of the lagoon, located in the industrial port where they’ll arrive through the port of Malamocco alongside oil tankers, container ships, and freighters. Sandro Trevisanato, President of the VTP cruise ship terminal, remains perplexed: “the Marghera plan is interesting, if the three hypothetical moorings are added to the other ones—but not if the three moorings are intended to substitute the ten current ones.”

This all began back in Spring 2012 when, in the wake of the cruise ship Costa Concordia’s shipwreck on the reefs near Isola del Giglio (in the province of Grosseto, Tuscany), the Ministries of Economic Development, Transportation and Infrastructures, and the Environment issued a decree that prohibited cruise ships from taking the traditional Venetian passage in front of St. Mark’s Square. Not immediately but as soon as an alternative solution was found. So the ships continued to enter through San Marco’s square and the debate has been raging since.

Numerous projects and ideas followed until finally a private project (the so-called De Piccoli-Duferco project) was made official; this plan entailed building a terminal on the border between the lagoon and the open sea. The environmentalists, the committees against the large ships, and the Ministry of the Environment all liked this project. But the city government, the port’s superintendent, and the Ministry of Infrastructures were not on board.

According to Mayor Brugnaro, the new solution calls for the construction of two moorings in Marghera in 2019, followed by a third at the Brentelle canal in 2021, which are reserved for the largest ships that the market will orient towards (those weighing more than 100,000 tons). Brugnaro claims that the canal between Venice and Marghera will be deepened over time, in order to allow future dockings at the marine terminal’s ten mooring stations—but not via St. Mark’s Square.

Sandro Trevisanato, President of the Venice Cruise Terminal, is wary: the uncertainties about the future are driving the shipping companies away from Venice’s port, with 400,000 fewer passengers over the course of just a few years. If Venice doesn’t want large ships, it’s saying no to an industry that’s contributing to the city’s livelihood, with 4,300 direct employees and €400-500 million worth of direct business. “And to think that, up until the 1990s, 12,000 boats passed through the Lagoon of Saint Mark each year, including oil and chemical tankers,” observed Trevisanato.