Article Italy: Cruise Ships Banned from Venice Lagoon, Waterways Declared National Monument

On July 21, 2021, Italy’s Decree-Law No. 103 approving urgent measures for the protection of Venice, including a declaration of some of its waterways as a national monument, entered into effect. (D.L. No. 103.) Law No. 125 of September 16, 2021, converted the decree into law, effectively banning cruise ships and other large vessels from the Venice Lagoon.

Renewed Measures to Protect the Venetian Lagoon

Over the past decade, several hundred cruise ships visited Venice annually, and the size of these ships doubled during that time. Cruise ships brought more than 1.6 million passengers to the city in 2019, before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Venice and its lagoon have been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1987. Concerns about environmental degradation caused by cruise ship traffic and other factors prompted calls for a sustainable development management plan.

In response, Italy adopted measures to protect and restore the Venice Lagoon. The new legislation reinforces such measures, establishing new undertakings discussed below. 

Declaration of Venetian Waterways National Monument

Article 1.2 of D.L. 103 declares the Venetian waterways San Marco Basin, San Marco Canal, and Giudecca Canal a national monument. The parliamentary discussions highlighted the immense historical, political, artistic, military, and cultural importance of the Venetian lagoon.

Protection of Waterways of Cultural Interest

The decree supplements the current Code of Cultural Heritage and Landscape to provide that, to ensure the integrity, beauty, and safety of waterways declared a national monument or recognized as a cultural interest, protective measures may include prohibitions and limitations on the transit of ships with specific characteristics, including their gross tonnage, hull length, height, and pollutant emissions. (Art. 1.1.)

Accordingly, ships having at least one of the following characteristics are prohibited from entering the protected waterways: gross tonnage exceeding 25,000 gross tons (GT); hull length at the waterline exceeding 180 meters (about 590 feet); height from the waterline greater than 35 meters (about 115 feet), excluding ships with mixed sail and engine propulsion; and use of fuel during maneuvering with a sulfur content equal to or greater than 0.1 percent. (Art. 1.2(a)-(d).)

Endowment Fund for the Protection of the Venice Lagoon 

The decree establishes an endowment of €35 million (about US$40.7 million) for 2021 and €22.5 million (about US$26 million) for 2022. (Art. 1.3.) The funds will be disbursed in favor of shipping companies affected by the restrictive measures, in particular for any higher costs incurred for the rescheduling of routes and for reimbursements granted to passengers who have canceled trips due to the rescheduling of the routes. (Art. 1.3(a).) Subsidies are also granted to the manager of the landing terminal affected by the transit ban. (Art. 1.3(b).)

Additional funds are established to provide financial aid to support the income of workers employed by the manager of the landing terminal, companies operating services at the terminal, companies holding legal concessions over the terminal, and customs agents and companies operating in the logistics sector whose activities are connected to the transit of ships in the protected waterways. (Art. 1.4.)

Appointment of Extraordinary Commissioner

The decree creates the position of extraordinary commissioner for the construction of temporary landings and other projects for the protection of Venice and its lagoon. (Art. 2.) The president of the Port System Authority of the Northern Adriatic Sea is appointed as extraordinary commissioner, tasked with the design, assignment, and execution of several projects in the Venice Lagoon, including the construction of a maximum of five temporary mooring points in the Marghera area intended for passenger ships of gross tonnage equal or higher than 25,000 GT, maintenance of existing channels, and other actions to improve the area’s accessibility and navigation safety. (Art. 2.1(a)-(c).) The extraordinary commissioner has authority to undertake the hydrogeological, geomorphological, and archaeological studies necessary for safeguarding Venice and its lagoon. (Art. 2.1.)

These projects are to begin within 60 days from entry into force of the decree by means of a decree issued by the minister of Sustainable Infrastructure, in agreement with the minister of Economy and Finance, and after consultation with the Veneto region. (Art. 2.4.)

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