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Venice and the Cruise Ship Dilemma

Is there anything more distressing for visitors to Venice than the presence of a giant modern cruise liner looming over the city’s tiny canals? Gone is any semblance of romance or old-world ambience. Instead, this Godzilla-like thing hovers over the city, effectively photo-bombing all your shots and casting a long shadow over the outdoor terraces.

Traffic Jam

And it’s not just one ship every now and then. In 2013, more than 650 ships docked in the city, making it the most popular stop on the Mediterranean cruise circuit. The volume of cruise passengers to Venice sky-rocketed from 100,000 passengers in 1999 to an estimated 1.8 million in 2012.


Structural Damage

Aesthetics aside, cruise ships that sail within 1000 feet of San Marco’s square produce vibrations that have already caused severe structural damage to the 600-year-old palazzos along the canal: ironically, the very sights that their passengers have travelled so far to see. Local residents are equally concerned about the increase in pollution that threatens their fishing industry, and the water surges that occur when water that was displaced by the ships rushes back down the canals. Moreover, it’s common knowledge that cruise passengers frequently eat and sleep on board and contribute little direct revenue to restaurants and hotels.

What’s Being Done

Thankfully, the Italian government has stepped in and declared a ban on all 96,000-plus-ton cruise ships—the so-called “sky-scrapers” of the ocean—as of November 2014, and a reduction of 20% in the number of 40,000-plus-ton ships starting January 2015. They will also cap the number of visiting large ships at 5 per day, versus 10 or more in previous peak seasons.

The Final Straw

So, what was the final straw? The Costa Concordia accident, just off the coast of Genoa in Tuscany, struck a nerve with Italians. Politicians seized on the zeitgeist and passed new laws restricting access to the Italian coastline. Even so, Venice was slow to enforce them.


The Compromise

However, both local businesses and the cruise lines were not about to let tourism suffer. So a compromise was struck, with the City of Venice agreeing to build an alternative canal near the less-scenic main shipping terminal within the next two years that could handle large ships. Local activist groups, such as Venice’s No Big Ships Committee view this as a mixed blessing since the pollution and sheer volume of visitors will continue.

map of Venice canals
Blue line = old cruise line route Dotted line = proposed future cruise line route Yellow line = current commercial vessels route

How You Can Help

Don’t take a cruise. Duh. Take a train instead. I promise you’ll have more fun.

For more on this story:
Venice Cruise Ship Ban Sparks Joy, Confusion