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Venice-bound cruise ships could be forced out of the city center soon

By HANNAH SAMPSON | The Washington Post | Published: August 8, 2019

Are giant, controversial cruise ships about to be a thing of the past in Venice? In short: not really.

Italy's transport minister, Danilo Toninelli, said Wednesday at a public hearing that the government would start to redirect larger ships to terminals outside the historic center of the city starting in September, the Financial Times reported. By next year, about a third of ships are expected to be rerouted, the publication said.

"We've been talking about big ships for 15 years and nothing has been done," Toninelli said, according to CNN. "These floating palaces will start to go elsewhere."

But the Cruise Lines International Association, an industry trade group, said in a statement that the minister had only "set up a working group to look at alternative solutions" for rerouting ships without making a final decision.

"There is currently no ban in place preventing cruise ships from visiting Venice," the statement said. "Discussions concerning the future of cruise ships using the Guidecca Canal have been ongoing for several years and those discussions continue today without any conclusion."

This week's decision comes two months after a dramatic scene in which a cruise ship, the MSC Opera, crashed into a tour boat and dock on the Giudecca Canal, injuring several tourists. Protesters took to the streets and waterways after the incident to call for the ban of large cruise ships to the island, which drew more than 1.5 million cruise passengers last year.

It was a familiar refrain: Activists have sought to restrict cruising in the fragile destination for years, and headlines announced similar plans to keep ships out of the city center back in 2012, 2014 and 2017.

According to the cruise trade group, cruise lines agreed with a committee recommendation in 2017 that would keep ships out of the Giudecca Canal, routing them instead through the Vittorio Emanuele canal down the coast of the mainland on the way to the port.

"However, it was not accepted by the government and we have been waiting for a solution ever since," spokeswoman Sarah Kennedy wrote in an email.

In a statement Thursday, Tom Boardley, the secretary-general of the trade group in Europe, said its members would support "the urgent implementation of this solution."

But Toninelli's near-term plan would send ships to terminals such as Fusina, on the other side of the lagoon, CNN reported. A broader solution for the future would be considered with public input.

This week's statements seemed to disappoint both fans of cruising and those who have been calling for greater restrictions.

Stewart Chiron, a cruise expert and CEO of cruiseguy.com, said moving to a different terminal would make the experience of visiting the island less appealing to passengers.

"It's going to diminish the Venetian experience to the point where I would probably prefer not to go there," he says.

Jane da Mosto, executive director of the group We Are Here Venice, which seeks to stop large cruise ships, said that redirected vessels would still pose a danger to Venice.

"They haven't solved the cruise ship problem, they're just pretending to be doing something without getting to the root of the problem," she says.

A blog post on the website Avoid-Crowds.com, which shows travelers crowding estimates atcertain destinations in Europe, said the latest plan meant nothing - not a ban, and not a solution to overtourism.

"Even if the transport minister proves to be successful in moving the ships away from the city center, Venice will not see less passengers," the post said. "Cruise ships that have Venice on their itinerary will still arrive in Venice."
 

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