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Continuing yesterday’s theme of protecting fragile environments, it’s time to look at Venice again. In fact, it turns out that I’m about 9 months or so late on this story – some decisions were made in November 2017 that I completely missed. I’m disappointed that I didn’t spot this at the time as over the years I’ve done a number of posts about the issue of cruise ships getting into Venice cruise terminal. But better late than never.

The first significant post was in February 2012 when I outlined what the issues were. Then later that month I did another post to describe what seemed at that time to be the best solution. Then there was a post in November 2013 about a decision to ban the largest ships from sailing through St Mark’s Basin from November 2014, which in practice meant banning them from Venice altogether, there being no other route to the cruise terminal. There was some to-ing and fro-ing about that ban (court hearings, etc) but as far as I’m aware, the ban has stuck – certainly, the cruise lines have not breached it. This explains why P&O switched their Mediterranean fly-cruises from Ventura, which would have breached the limit, to Oceana, which doesn’t. Similarly, Celebrity Cruises switched their Venice itineraries away from Solstice-class ships (too big) to the older and small Millennium-class ships. (There was also a limit on the number of cruise ships doing this per day.)

So on to the stuff I missed. Last November a ‘Final Decision’ was taken by a government minister. The details of this seem to as follows:-

  • no ships with a tonnage greater than 55,000 will be allowed to pass through St Mark’s Basin and along the Giudecca Canal to the cruise terminal. That rules out the whole of the current P&O, Cunard and Celebrity fleets;
  • all larger ships will have to follow the same route as cargo vessels. That is, they’ll have to enter the lagoon at a southern point (the Bocca di Malamocco) and head north to berth at the mainland port of Maghera;
  • there’s a suggestion that vessels of between 55,000 tons and 96,000 will then be allowed to traverse an existing channel eastwards from Maghera to the existing cruise terminal and so berth there.

The image below tries to make some sense of that information:

  1. Point 1 is the present entrance for all passenger ships that are allowed to enter the lagoon and pass through St Mark’s Basin and along the Giudecca canal to the cruise terminal. The current restrictions allow ships up to 96,000 tons to do this, but when the new arrangements come into force, only cruise ships of 55,000 tons or less will be allowed to use this entrance;
  2. Point 2 is the Bocca di Malamocco. Currently, this is where cargo vessels of all sizes enter the lagoon on their way to Maghera, and where passenger ships in excess of 55,000 will tons will enter the lagoon when the new regulations apply;
  3. Point 3 is the commercial docks at Maghera, and is where the largest cruise ships will have to berth; and
  4. Point 4 is the channel through which cruise ships between 55,000 and 96,000 tons may be able to use to get to the existing Venice cruise terminal.

I’ve said ‘when the new regulations will apply’ at various points above. The problem is that no-one knows when this will be. Obviously, a lot of work will need to be done – for example, cruise terminal buildings will need to be built in Maghera port, and if the suggestions about ships between 55,000 and 96,000 tons being able to get to the existing cruise terminals from the east is right, then I imagine the channel will need to be enhanced.

One other point seems clear, and that’s that there won’t be any restriction on the size of cruise ships berthing at Maghera. So we could return to the days of mega-ships calling at Venice; well, at Maghera. However, on reflection I don’t think this will happen for ships making day calls. It would be too cumbersome, too polluting, and just too horrible to try to take three, four or even five thousand passengers from Maghera into the old city by coach, and then get them back at the end of the day. That would require dozens of coaches going back and forth along the causeway and trying to squeeze into Piazzale Roma to unload and reload. What would be possible, however, is that cruises starting and finishing in Venice could return to using their largest ships on this itinerary because they’d be using Maghera and not traversing St Mark’s Basin. This would mainly affect MSC and Costa, I believe. As regards day calls into Venice I think it’s likely that lines doing these, e.g. P&O and Celebrity, will stick to the current 96,000 tons limit and will thus be able to berth at the existing cruise terminal, assuming that the information about the ‘eastwards’ channel from Maghera is right as they do now – they just won’t be traversing St Mark’s Basin.

All in all, I think this is a good compromise.

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