Italian Decree Bans Cruise Ships From Venice August 1; Lines Seek Alternative Docking

This week, Italy’s Council of Ministers issued a decree to ban most cruise ships from Venetian waters (the San Marco Basin and Giudecca Canal) and declared the Venetian Lagoon a national monument, effective August 1, 2021.

Alternative docking arrangements for Venice port calls have been discussed for years. Currently, lines planning Venice visits are looking at potential docking options elsewhere including Marghera, Italy, a cargo port that's about 20 minutes away (by rail) from the outskirts of Venice.

Travel Agent asked Laziza Lambert, a spokesperson for Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) about the decree and what the industry will do about it. Lambert responded: “We have been supportive of an alternative route for cruise ships for many years and we look forward to progress being made towards the provision of alternative docking arrangements in time for the 2022 season.”

The government action comes as the 44th session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee soon will discuss—as part of its larger agenda—the heritage status of Venice. 

In a statement, Dario Franceschini, Italy’s culture minister, said the “intervention could no longer be delayed.” Community and eco-activists have long attempted to convince government officials to ban big ships from sailing into the lagoon.

That said, local tourism-focused merchants don’t necessarily share that view. While the government’s decree provides for some compensation for cruise lines and other impacted by the decision, Fabrizio Spagna, president of Venezia Terminal Passeggeri (VTP), the Venice port operation used by the cruise lines, has indicated his firm’s strong objection to the government decision.

Spagna says the decree revokes use of the terminal, a VTP concession until 2025, which he believes violates national and European Union regulations. He also says the decree is so restrictive that prohibits even the smallest ships, many in the luxury sector, from calling at VTP. 

Ships are banned in passing through the San Marco Basin if they’re greater than 25,000 gross tons. So, for example, that would even prohibit ships the size of Azamara's or Oceania's ships, Hapag-Lloyd's Europa 2, or Silversea's Silver Whisper.  

Ships are also banned if they have a hull length at waterline of more than 35 meters (114 feet), with the exception of sailing ships that are also motorized. The decree additionally bans any ships with a fuel emission sulfur content of 0.1 percent or greater.

Recent Cruise Ship Calls

In recent months, cruise ships have begun calling once again at Venice as lines have begun Mediterranean region "restarts." For example, MSC Cruises confirmed to Travel Agent that its ships have been back sailing into the city in recent months. Paige Rosenthal, an MSC Cruises USA spokeswoman, told us that the line is currently evaluating the Italian decision.

Travel Agent also asked Costa Cruises for a response and was told by a U.S. spokesperson that “Costa Cruises is reviewing the programs of Costa Deliziosa, which was scheduled to depart weekly from Venice through 2021. The line will inform guests and travel agents as soon as an alternative is determined.”

Many other lines, too, call or plan future calls at Venice, including Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, Viking and others. That said, the ban on sailing into the Venetian Lagoon—while eliminating a stunning sail-by of St. Mark’s Square, always a thrill for cruisers—won’t mean that many cruise ships won’t call in the area. Alternative docking arrangements will likely mean many cruisers still will be able to spend the day in Venice, at least by 2022. Right now, Marghera, the area’s cargo ship port, can accommodate some ships, but much additional work—such as channel deepening—is needed to accommodate many ships, particularly larger ones.

On June 29, the port system authority of the Northern Adriatic Sea announced a competition for ideas—to identify the best places for docking outside of the Venetian Lagoon. Officials say some docking by cruise vessels could occur at Marghera or elsewhere by 2022. 

Ships calling outside the lagoon could still operate Venice shore excursions with guests boarding the ship’s small tenders, which could dock somewhere in the main tourism area of Venice, where guests would begin their Venetian tours. Or cruisers could take ground transportation/train service or other water transport to reach the city. 

In addition, not all Venice port calls are for cruisers heading out for a Venice tour; also popular for repeat Venice visitors are day trips to Verona and elsewhere. The airport for Venice is also on the Italian mainland.

Stay tuned here for additional updates.

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