Venice, Italy

Voices from Venice

This podcast is part of the serie FRICTIONS. It contains interviews recorded in January  2021, with: Tommaso Cacciari and Marta Sottoriva (members of the Commmittee No Big Ships), Antonio Tattara (economist at the Cà Foscari university), and Antonio Velleca (cooperative portabagagli del porto).

Our reasons

By Comitato No Grandi Navi – Laguna Bene Comune

The cruise traffic in Venice has been growing exponentially. The sizes of the ships, which dock in Marittima, enter and exit via Lido and cross the San Marco Basin and the Giudecca Canal – Venice’s historical heart , 150m from Palazzo Ducale – twice each time, are also increasing. They have become up to to 300m long, 50 m large, 50 meters high, 60 meters high, and weigh up to thousands of tons. The trend is to produce even larger ships as they are more profitable. They are evidently out of scale, but this aesthetic idiosyncrasy is the least of Venice’s problems.

We have to urgently consider:

  • The hydrodynamic effects produced by ship transit, which moves tons of water within an ancient urban area located in a small, fragile and delicate lagoon
  • The underrated public health risks: in Venice, cruise traffic produces the largest atmospheric pollution (Arpav data). Its sulphur content is 5% when navigating (car diesel emissions are 1,500 times lower) and 0.1% when docked. The European Parliament, which noted that around 50,000 people a year die in Europe due to pollution caused by ships, created regulations that imposed to ships in the Baltic and North Seas to reduce the sulphur limit to 0.5%.
  • Electromagnetic pollution caused by permanently switched-on radars
  • Maritime pollution
  • Sound pollution caused by ships docking night and day next to residential homes. Their vibrations also damage the lime mortar of houses and monuments.
  • The risks of accidents – always ignored – related to fire, fuel liking, and steering problems
  • Tourism impacts. Venice is being transformed into a theme park… if tourism really does bring wealth to the city as some say, then we do not understand why the city is dying. The former President of the Port Authority, Paolo Costa, has stated on several occasions that the economic contribution of the cruise passengers to the city is modest, while true value would be brought by the secondary revenues. Even if this was true, the environmental, urban and social costs are still burdening the city. A study conducted by a Croatian tourism board revealed the annual economic benefit derived from cruises in Croatia (involved in the same traffic of Venice) is valued between €7 and €37.2 million, compared to €273m of environmental damage: a negative balance of €238m!


The proposed alternative transit routes to Bacino di San Marco and the Giudecca Canal (so reaching Marittima from the Petroli Canal, previous dredging the small Contorta Canal – or in general bringing the ships to Marghera) would keep large ships in the lagoon, destroying it permanently while continually eroding the city’s fundaments.

The Venice lagoon is a fragile artificial environment, over which the antique government of the ‘Serenissima’ (the denomination of the state and maritime republic that has existed for over 1,000 years) has maintained, balanced, and managed with a consideration of its natural phenomena (the destiny of each lagoon is in effect to become sea or land). This is the only guarantee for the city’s survival. If Venice is still protected by its lagoon nowadays, it is thanks to the wise politics of conservation implemented by successive Serenissima governments, which prioritised the survival of the lagoon.

After the falling of the Republic in 1797 environmental knowledge and care were lost, starting a long term of adaptation – hence subordination of the lagoon to the need of a modern port. This process has broken down the delicate balance, devastating the lagoon. In fact, the maritime entrances from the sea to the lagoon have been depended, new straight canals were dredged (the Petroli Canal is a cancer that is devouring the lagoon; a century ago its depth was 40cm, now it is 1.50m and in 50 years it will be 2.50m if its morphological recovery will not be carried out, becoming sea). Thousands of hectares of salt marsh have also disappeared. From the morphological, biological, and hydrodynamic points of view, this “lagoon” can only be called as such thanks to the lidos that separate it from the open sea.

The special laws for Venice prescribe the exclusion of oil traffic from the lagoon (law no. 171 of 1973) and the removal the morphological dissent responsible (law. n. 798 of 1984), but so far these have not been implemented properly – only in some case for accommodating the port traffic in relation to the sea barrier MOSE (another embarrassing chapter) rather than for environmental reasons. The Port Authority has recently launched an offshore container port project. If cruise ships were also excluded from the lagoon, we could begin to realise the inversion of the lagoon’s degradation the first time in 200 years.

We are aware about the complexity of the problem,  but believe that not all values should be subordinated to economic calculation – which have been shown to be blind and wrong. Health and the environment have no price.

Our demands

Due to safety, public health and environmental protection of the lagoon, we demand:

  • The exclusion of ships larger than 40,000 tons from the lagoon entirely
  • The initiation of serious and unbiased studies to define the compatibility of big ships with the lagoon, based on tonnage, water dislocation, draught level, and clean fuels
  • The initiation of procedures to exclude those ships considered incompatible with the lagoon and the city, according to the previously mentioned studies, as well as those incompatible with the morphological recovery of the lagoon, which has been compromised by the excessive sections at the mouths of the port and the canals that become too large and deep
  • The installation of a network of sensors (Arpav) in order to measure air quality in Venice, encompassing the historical center and other islands
  • The launch of an investigation into citizens’ public health and its relations with cruise ships
  • The issuing of urgent precautionary measures defending public health, such as: obliging all ships that access the lagoon to use fuels with sulphur <0.1%, as well as using the best technology for reducing pollutants, limiting radars to moving ships and foggy conditions, and the electrification of all the piers of Venice
  • The establishment of a maximum and insurmountable level for daily tourism, assigning an insurmountable quote to cruise tourism too.


Comitato No Grandi Navi – Laguna Bene Comune



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