— -- After years of studies, protests and legal debates, the Italian government has announced that large cruise ships and other massive vessels will no longer be able to enter Venice's large canal, preventing tens of thousands of tourists a day from disembarking in the heart of the famous city on the water.
The vessels will now dock in a new passenger facility that will be built in the nearby industrial port town of Marghera on the Venetian mainland. The mayor of Venice, Luigi Brugnaro, hailed the plan as a compromise to residents and environmental groups and said the move will not affect the lucrative tourism businesses.
Cruise ships with more than 3,000 passengers had been halted in legislation passed after the 2012 Costa Concordia disaster, but those regulations were overturned. Under the new plan, only small cruise ships, commercial ferries, private yachts and the city’s famous gondolas will be allowed in the Giudecca Canal, the passage of sea that passes by the most famous Venetian landmarks. Under the new plan, the huge ships will take a longer route but they can still transit the lagoon, a highly sensitive and delicate ecosystem.
Italian transport minister Graziano Delrio said the decision was a "real and definitive solution” but acknowledged that it will take up to four years for preparations to be completed in Marghera.
Environmental activists have warned that wakes caused by larger ships have eroded the underwater supports of the buildings and polluted the waters, killing the surrounding sea life. Residents have complained that the tens of thousands of day visitors from the city are overwhelming the infrastructure and making it nearly impossible to walk in the narrow streets during parts of the day.
Local residents have periodically organized small flotillas to blockade the ships. Tommasso Cacciari, from the No Big Ships protest group, argued that the new plan means nothing. Marghera is not big enough at the moment to handle the number of ships that come daily to Venice and the levels of pollution in the lagoon will stay the same, he said.
Cruise line companies are opposed to any restrictions on the popular destination and merchants that cater to tourists have concerns that the new plan will mean less business.
The government promises that immediate controls will begin to protect the UNESCO Heritage city from further damage while the port of Marghera is rebuilt, but critics are doubtful that the new regulations will ever come into effect or say they will be overruled once again.