Large cruise ships passing through the Venice lagoon are to be banned effective November 2014, and a limit on smaller cruise vessels will kick in January, government officials in Rome ordered on Tuesday.
The order came following a meeting between Italy’s Prime Minister Enrico Letta, his transport and culture ministers and Venice city officials and regional authorities, discussing how to implement in Venice a law that bans large ships from passing near Italian shores. The law was enacted nationwide following the crash of the Costa Concordia cruise ship in early 2012, which killed 32 people off the coast of Tuscany, but was not applied in Venice where the cruise industry plays a key role in the local economy.
As of January, the traffic volume of cruise ships weighing between 40,000 and 96,000 tonnes must be reduced to no more than five ships per day. The outright ban starting November 2014 only applies to those over 96,000 tonnes (similar to the Costa Concordia).
According to the order, cruise traffic will eventually be rerouted through the Contorta Sant'Angelo Canal. Environmentalists warn that the lagoon surrounding Venice, itself a UNESCO heritage site, is at great risk due to its fragile ecosystem and Venice residents have staged many protests over the invasion of the cruise ships. Currently, cruise ships pass within 300 metres (1,000 feet) of St Mark's Square. Over the past 15 years, Venice has become one of the world's most important cruise destinations, with more than 650 cruise ships passing through the city annually.
"Finally the trend towards gigantic ships in the lagoon has been turned around," the mayor of Venice, Giorgio Orsoni, said in a statement on Tuesday. "We've had enough of these mega cruise ships just meters away from San Marco; from now on there will be clear limits on the size of ships that can enter Venice."