Radical Solution Solves Venice's Cruise Ship Problem

By ,   May 8, 2016 ,   Cruise Industry

Cruise ships could dock in new Venice port outside the lagoon.

“Of course, the best thing for the environment would be to do nothing,” 

says Paolo Costa, president of Venice Port Authority (VPA), who nonetheless is lobbying for a large channel, 120 m wide at its maximum, to be dredged through the lagoon to enable the cruise ships to enter Marittima port in Venice by a back route, thereby eliminating their passage through the town. 

Speaking to the La Nuova di Venezia newspaper on 9 April, he made clear that he believes the damage to the lagoon this project would cause is a necessary evil. 

“Over the four years in which the government has havered over a solution to the cruise ship problem, we have lost 10% of the trade at a time when the cruising industry as a whole is expanding. [It] is a gold mine for the city.” 

An alternative solution being considered by the ministry of the environment is to build a fully reversible structure in the sea outside the Lido entrance to the lagoon and bring the cruise ship passengers into the Venice port by special boats designed to produce almost no wake and no polluting emissions.

With a pier measuring 940 m by 34 m, designed by the Genoese firm Duferco Engineering, the new port would be capable of accommodating up to five large ships and handling 24,000 passengers a day. It would take 26 months to build and would cost €144 m, the same as the channel favoured by Costa. 

The proponents of the Lido port point out that it would not only spare the lagoon from damage that would have serious implications for Venice itself, but that it would be more economical in the long run, as the mobile barriers between the lagoon and the sea (expected to be completed in 2017) will have to be closed for longer and longer periods due to sea-level rise, making the passage of big ships impossible. Under current conditions, the barriers will be closed around 15 times a year, but in just 20 years, this may be as often as 40 times, which would play havoc with cruise ships’ schedules. 

Duferco has the skills and size to be able to carry out this project (named Venis Cruise 2.0) - it has a turnover of €4bn and has built many ports and infrastructure schemes - but it has to compete with short-term interests, which tend to govern Venice in most situations. Costa is a powerful man in the Venice and Rome contexts: a former chair of the European Parliament’s committee on transport and tourism and a former mayor of Venice, with the support of the current mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, and of the regional government for continuing to bring the ships into the lagoon. In addition, recent financial operations work against any reduction in the business of the Marittima.

The VPA, the state body of which Costa is head, owns 53% of a commercial company called Venice Terminal Passeggeri (VTP) that manages the Marittima port, valued at €50m, with capital reserves of €27m. Last month, the VPA announced that it had sold 35% of VTP for €24m to a consortium of cruise ship companies (MSC Cruises, Costa Cruises, Royal Caribbean) and the port operator Global Liman, to be held in the name of Venezia Investimenti. With this, the owners of the “grandi navi” are making it clear that they are buying into the status quo. 

In the meantime, opponents of bringing the cruise ships into the lagoon have weakened their political clout by splitting, with some supporting Venis Cruise 2.0 and others, including the minister of culture, Dario Franceschini, and the private heritage lobby group Fondo Ambiente Italiano, favouring the transfer of the whole cruising business to the town of Trieste. Since this would cause Venice to lose 5,000 jobs, this is not a popular position with anyone in the city.