Venice has been ordered to allow large cruise ships back into its lagoon, months after the Italian government decreed that they should be banned because of the environmental damage they do to the World Heritage-listed city.
A regional tribunal overturned a law introduced last November which reduced the number of cruise liners of more than 40,000 tons permitted to enter from the Adriatic and plough their way towards Venice ’s cruise ship terminal.
More stringent rules, which would have banned outright ships of more than 96,000 tons – some of which are twice as long as St Mark’s Square and dwarf Venice’s centuries-old spires and domes – were to have been introduced in 2015.
But the law has been suspended by a regional court in the Veneto region, which ruled that alternative routes for the ships to reach the terminal have not yet been agreed on and that the risks posed by the vessels had not been proven.
The decision is a victory for the cruise ship industry, which has dismissed concerns that cruise liners cause damage to Venice’s delicate foundations and scoffed at suggestions that another Costa Concordia-style disaster could occur if a passenger liner strayed off course.
Gian Luca Galletti, the environment minister, said that while the tribunal’s ruling would be respected, there was an urgent need to find a solution which would prevent giant cruise ships from “continuing to pass along Venice’s ancient canals”.
One of the largest cruise ships to visit the lagoon city, the MSC Divina, has a gross tonnage of nearly 140,000 tonnes, is more than 1,000ft long and carries nearly 5,000 passengers and crew.
Dario Franceschini, the culture and tourism minister, said it was “unimaginable that such giants should be allowed to pass right in front of St Mark’s Square. Nobody with an ounce of common sense can understand it.”
The suspension will last until June, when the issue will be discussed again.
The more stringent regulations had been introduced in response to the Costa Concordia disaster of Jan 2012, when the 115,000-ton cruise liner rammed into Giglio, off the Tuscan coast, after its captain apparently misjudged a sail-past of the island.