“Grandi Navi”: a new decree excludes ocean liners from the Lagoon

3 May 2021

On 31 March 2021, the Draghi government announced the decision to exclude large cruise liners from the Venice Lagoon. This is a victory for FAI, who, for ten years, has been defending the delicate ecosystem of the lagoon city and calling for solutions to safeguard the World Heritage Site.

As early as 2013, FAI founder Giulia Maria Crespi called the issue of large ships in the Venice Lagoon a “diabolical problem” and urged greater responsibility and sense of urgency from all those involved in a debate that outraged the entire world.

On 31 March 2021, the Draghi government ended the passage of “giants of the sea” in front of Piazza San Marco. Over the past eight years, FAI has never ceased to keep the debate going and to appeal to the relevant institutions to find a concrete solution.

In 2014, President Carandini declared: “We are back to the Wild West of indiscriminate transit in the Giudecca Canal and to complete uncertainty over a definitive solution”. For years he had been proposing an outer lagoon port outside the Lido inlet as the means of maintaining a sustainable cruise industry with non-polluting ships of a size, draught, and displacement compatible with the delicate nature of the lagoon’s environment.

In 2014, FAI also inaugurated Mostri a Venezia (Monsters in Venice) at Villa Necchi Campiglio in Milan: an exhibition of twenty-seven photographs by Gianni Berengo Gardin depicting the daily intrusion by mammoth cruise ships into the Giudecca Canal.

At the opening of the exhibition, FAI Executive Vice President Marco Magnifico said:

“Large ships are monsters – twice the length of St Mark’s Square, twice the height of the Doge’s Palace – they threaten Venice: with their “bows” they make precious monuments tremble, their tonnage causes waves and currents that wear away the delicate foundations of the city, they pollute the air with their engines”.

Monsters in Venice was a success, and the following year FAI unveiled the exhibition again in the heart of the lagoon city at the Negozio Olivetti in Piazza San Marco. On that occasion, President Carandini returned to reiterate that it was worth “reflecting on cruise tourism’s costs and benefits so as not to damage the City’s ecosystem, without impoverishing the environment, trying to avoid the bull in a china shop effect caused by the cruise ships. If we do not take all this into account, the city risks being terribly ruined”.

One Sunday in June 2019, with Venice crowded with tourists, the collision between an MSC cruise ship and a tourist boat in the port reignited the debate on the passage of large ships through the lagoon. FAI repeated its message that the decision could no longer be postponed and recalled that UNESCO had threatened to revoke recognition of Venice as a World Heritage Site if it did not show compliance with its guidelines on environmental protection, liveability and safeguarding of the architectural heritage and the lagoon ecosystem.

Now in 2021, the Council of Ministers prompted by President Mario Draghi, Enrico Giovannini Minister for Infrastructure and Sustainable Mobility, and Dario Franceschini Minister for Culture, has finally approved a legal decree to regulate cruise-ship traffic in the lagoon. This makes provision for a competition for the creation of docking points outside the protected waters of the Venice lagoon for passenger ships over 40,000 gross tonnes and trans-oceanic container ships. Once tourist traffic resumes after the pandemic, large ships will be diverted to the industrial docks of Porto Marghera until the new port outside the lagoon is built.

Time is short. Venice is the jewel in Italy’s crown, a precious treasure chest that is fragile, delicate, and threatened by climate change. If we delay any longer in safeguarding Venice and its lagoon, the world will not forgive us.