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Cruise Ships impacting Venetian Lagoon, Italy


The Venetian lagoon is a natural ecosystem in a precarious dynamic balance that must be maintained artificially. Since the appearance of the first anthropic settlements the lagoon has undergone hydro-geographical changes which have preserved its structure; in particular, during the venetian (well known as Serenissima) self-government period, interventions aimed at the hydraulic regulation of the lagoon were put into place: including levees construction upstream and the diversion of major rivers Brenta and Piave; the interface with the Adriatic sea ws also modified with the construction of coastal defences (Murazzi) and harbour entrance was reduced and gradually fortified [1], to mitigate the sea water ingression.

Currently there are three harbour entrances (in order from north to south): Lido-San Nicolò, Malamocco and Chioggia.

During the ‘90s, increasing ship traffic, both commercial and tourist, is one of the reasons (in addition to subsidence and eustatism) which helped to upset the delicate environmental balance of the lagoon, which is characterized by shallow waters (medium average depth of 1.2 m), unsuitable for the transit of cruise ships. For this reason, with the development of the Petrochemical Pole of Marghera, the Petroli Canal was excavated, which currently has a depth of 15m and a width of 90m and connects the harbour entrance of Malamocco with Marghera [2], which is until today the major terminal for commercial ships [3].

Cruise ships on the other hand, have access to the lagoon through the harbour entrance of Lido-San Nicolò, passing through the San Marco basin and continuing to the Giudecca Canal (depth of 12-17m and width of 300m) and finally docking in the touristic terminal of Marittima. It is precisely the path of the cruise ships that represents the core of the conflict between citizens and environmental associations on one side and institutions (the Port Authority) on the other. The transit of big ships causes significant environmental impacts, such as: erosion of the seabed of the canals; reduction of the surface of the adjacent sandbanks (called“barene”); the mutation of tidal currents; air pollution caused by discharges from the ships and water pollution due the release of wastewater and toxic substances [4].

Such impacts contrast with the protection principles of Venice and its lagoon, set out in the Special Law 16/04/1973 n. 171 [5], on: “Measures for the Safeguarding of Venice”, later supplemented by law 29/11/1984 n. 798 [6], on: “New Measures for the Safeguarding of Venice” which sets up the “Comitatone” (inter-ministerial committee integrated with representatives of local and regional authorities) that has tasks of planning, coordinating and controlling interventions in the Venetian lagoon.

Regarding the conflict, the first citizens’ mobilizations against the transit of big ships in the lagoon started around 2007 by the group Ambiente Venezia. In 2012, it is made up by the Comitato NO Grandi Navi – Laguna Bene Comune, that in addition to the organization of protests and the promotion of popular petitions and informational events, submitted several observations into the urban plan of Venice (Piano d’Assetto Territoriale – P.A.T.), managing to push through the Art.35 bis [7], through which City Council of Venice commits to exclude the incompatible ships with the environment of the lagoon and the historic centre of the city and further, to promote in-depth analysis of the environmental, social and economic impacts with the aim to define a maximum threshold of daily sustainability.

Besides this, the “Comitato NO Grandi Navi” presented several appeals to the European Commission, requesting the submission of alternative projects proposed to the Strategic Environmental Assessment (S.E.A.) [8] and the reduction of air pollution. The Comitato also demand a new Port Master Plan that, for the implementation of new projects, do not resort to the “Legge Obiettivo” [9], which would derogate from ordinary existing laws.

At the institutional level, in 2012 (following the great emotion aroused by the shipwreck of the Costa Concordia at Giglio Island) the D.L. “Clini-Passera” was enacted [10]; it would have prohibited the transit of the cruise ship into the Venetian lagoon, once an alternative solution would been found. In 2013, the T.A.R. (the regional administrative court) annulled the D.L. under the pressures of ship companies.

In recent years, several alternative plans have been presented though, in order to propose new routes for the big ships’ transit. In 2014 the Comitatone have opted for the project presented by Port Authority which provides for the excavation of a new canal called “Contorta Sant’Angelo”, which would link the Petroli Canal with the Marittima terminal.

Citizens and local institutions opposed to this project including the Comitato NO Grandi Navi, which prefers the solution of an off-shore port at entrance of Lido-San Nicolò as the only alternative project that respects the lagoon's environmental balance and the principles of gradualism, flexibility and reversibility. Instead, the City Council of Venice prefers the solution of a new tourist terminal at Marghera, even if it would be in conflict with the Special Law of 1973. Both subjects have filed an appeal against the plan of the new canal.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Cruise Ships impacting Venetian Lagoon, Italy
State or province:Region Veneto
Location of conflict:Venice
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Tourism Recreation
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Ports and airport projects
Pollution related to transport (spills, dust, emissions)
Urban development conflicts
Tourism facilities (ski resorts, hotels, marinas)
Wetlands and coastal zone management
Specific commodities:Tourism services

Project Details and Actors

Project details

From the 70s to the present the cruise ship traffic into the Venetian lagoon has increased exponentially. As shown by the data of the Venice Passenger Terminal (VTP), the ship moorings at Marittima terminal increased by 38% in the period 1997-2013, rising from 206 to 548, with a significant increase of passengers carried, from 299.450 in 1997 to 1.815.823 in 2013 [11].

In 2012 the D.L. “Clini-Passera” was enacted which affixes the ban on driving in San Marco’s basin and Giudecca Canal for ships with a weighing more than 40,000 GRT. The Prohibition is subsequently annulled by T.A.R. of Veneto, in 2013, following an appeal filed by the VTP, along with other port companies, due to the lack of definition of waterways alternatives.

Another key step is constituted by the choice of the Comitatone, in August 2014, to implement the alternative project of the Contorta Sant’Angelo Canal which provides the entrance of the big ships from the harbour entrance of Malamocco and the attainment of the Marittima terminal through the new canal (width 100m; depth 11m; length 4.8 km), for which the estimated cost of construction is €115 mln.

Due to this project has been initiated the E.I.A. procedure, despite the rejection receipt by the Ministry of Environment Commission in September 2013 environmental risks is necessary to add the overlap of the cruise ships traffic with the commercial traffic, which could lead further enlargement of the Petroli Canal. In addition, the project would conflict with the MOSE project during the high tide, when the three harbour entrance will be closed through the rise of the mobile gates.

In case of a new negative response from the EIA Committee, or in the case that the T.A.R. of Veneto accept the appeals filed by the City Council of Venice and the Comitato NO Grandi Navi, will be considered other project alternatives.

Project area:55,000 ha (Venetian Lagoon))
Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:110,000 (city centre population of Venezia and Chioggia and inhabitants of the islands of the lagoon)
Start of the conflict:01/06/2012
Company names or state enterprises:Venezia Terminal Passeggeri S.p. A. (VTP) from Italy
Gruppo Carnival Corporation & plc from United States of America
Gruppo MSC Crociere from Italy
Gruppo Royal Caribbean International from Italy
Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) from United States of America
Princess Cruises from United States of America
Relevant government actors:Comitatone, set up by the Special Law no. 798/84 (New interventions for the safeguarding of Venice and its Lagoon) is composed of the Prime Minister who presides, Minister of Transport and Infrastructure, Minister of Culture, Minister of Environment, Minister of Education, Veneto Region, the Mayors of Venice, Chioggia, Mira, Cavallino and Jesolo, Province of Venice and Venice Port Authority.
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Legambiente (; Comitato NO Grandi Navi – Laguna Bene Comune (;
Italia Nostra (;
Assemblea Permanente No Mose;
Gruppo 25 Aprile (;
Associazione Ambiente Venezia;
Gruppo d’Intervento Giuridico Onlus (

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
The “Comitato NO Grandi Navi” has promoted several “water manifestations” in the venetian lagoon in which the citizens, with various type of boats have occupied part of the cruise ship routes.
Further, in 2013 and 2014, the Comitato with “Gruppo d’Intervento Giuridico” have appealed to the European Commission, asking that the project alternatives to the actual used waterways are subject to Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA).


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Fires, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil erosion, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Global warming
Other Environmental impactsWith regard to data on air pollution from cruise ships is possible to consult the ARPAV report [13] or the APICE Report Project [14], both published in 2013.
The emission from the big ships affect both the health of citizens and the global warming, because of the greenhouse gas emitted. The ARPAV report estimate that the ship emissions are the 8% of the total PM2.5 emission and the 6% of the PM10 total emission in the city of Venice.
Health ImpactsPotential: Accidents, Other environmental related diseases
Other Health impactsOther impacts for the health of citizens and cruise ship passengers, is the risk of crashes or malfunction of the big ships; this danger is amplified when cruise ships transiting into the Venetian lagoon, given their size and the proximity of the waterways to the historic centre of Venice and Lido.
The risk is to assist again to incidents as that of Costa Concordia, wrecked at Giglio Island in 2012, or that of the Jolly Black, which has felled the pilot tower in the port of Genoa in 2013 [16].
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures
Other socio-economic impactsThe influx of tourist through the big ships strengthens the mass-tourism model that for decades has characterizes Venice. This dynamic has affected the quality of life in the historic centre, forcing the residents to move to the mainland due to the increase in housing price and lack of services, replaced by tourism-related activities.


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Negotiated alternative solution
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Development of alternatives:The Comitato Grandi Navi has supported the idea of a Tourist off-shore port at harbour entrance of Lido-San Nicolò. There are several project with this vision, presented respectively by: De Piccoli [18], that is the project supported by the “Comitato NO Grandi Navi”, because in line with the principle of reversibility contained in the law no. 171/1973; Vittadini, Boato, Giacomini [19]; Caut. The off-shore port project would allow both not to dig new canals into the lagoon, preserving the environmental balance, and avoiding that the ships traffic could be limited by the closure of the MOSE system. The off-shore port would be connected with the city and the Marittima terminal through small/medium size boats.
Other alternative projects have been presented by other actors, both from the central government and local bodies.
- Contorta Sant’Angelo canal project, presented by the Port Authority, has been subjected to an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) from August 2014. It provides the excavation of a new canal with a width of 180m and a depth of 10.5m. The project also includes the implementation of environmental mitigation measures for the protection of the lagoon beds [17]. This project present risks concerning the modification of the current's speed within the lagoon and the erosion of lagoon beds.
- “Tangential lagoon project”, proposed by Enrico Zanetti and then developed by the Venice Passenger Terminal (VPT) which presented a preliminary project called “Canale Grande Capacità Sud Giudecca” [20], provides the transit of the big ships in the rear of the Giudecca island trough a new canal with a width of 160m, depth of 10.5m and a length of about 2km. In this case there would be the same impacts, on environment and on architectural heritage, caused by thecurrent route in Giudecca canal.
- New touristic terminal at Marghera, presented by the study of Arch. D’Agostino and supported even by the City Council of Venice, involves the construction of a new tourist port near the VEGA building, exploiting the disused industrial areas [21]. With this project the risks is both to overlap the cruise ship traffic with the commercial traffic, and to modify the hydro-morphological balance of the lagoon.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:Since many years the Comitato NO Grandi Navi and the environmental venetian associations are fighting against the route of the cruise ships into the Venetian Lagoon, denouncing the evident contrast between the transit of the big ships with the preservation law for the lagoon and historic centre of Venice.
The first objective of the protest has not yet been achieved but the demonstrations put in place by the Comitato and local associations have achieved significant results. For first is the increased level of awareness of citizens and environmental groups on the environmental impacts caused by cruise ships. Further, over the years, the participation in the mobilizations has increased and consequently also the ability to put pressure on local, national and European institutions through demonstrations, popular petitions and appeals to the European Commision and T.A.R. (Regional Administrative Court).
In 2012, the Comitato was able to push through several observations into the P.A.T. of Venice (Art. 35 bis), which should push the city council to seek new design alternative solutions that respect the principles of the lagoon protection.
Finally, with regard to the chosen project (Contorta S’Angelo canal) by the Comitatone as a solution to the transit of the cruise ships into the venetian lagoon, its implementation or not, will pass through the T.A.R. of Veneto Region appeals presented both by the City of Venice and Comitato NO Grandi Navi whose, for different reasons, consider this alternative illegitimate.

Sources & Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

[9]Legge Obiettivo 443/2001

[6]Legge 29 Novembre 1984, n. 798, “Nuovi Interventi per la salvaguardia di Venezia”

[10]D.M. 2 Marzo 2012, “Disposizioni generali per limitare o vietare il transito delle navi mercantili per la protezione di aree sensibili nel mare territoriale”

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[7]Piano d’Assetto Territoriale (P.A.T.) del Comune di Venezia, 2012

[8]Articolo, ricorsi alla Commissione Europea

[2]Di Franco A. (2013). Un progetto per Venezia, in Territorio n. 67, pp. 97-102, Milano, Italia

[12]Tattara G. (2013). È solo la punta dell’iceberg! Costi e ricavi del crocierismo a Venezia, Università Ca’ Foscari di Venezia.

[13]ARPAV (2013). Emissioni delle navi passeggeri con tsl superiore alle 40.000 – anno 2011

[14]APICE Project Report (2013). Reducing atmospheric pollution in the Mediterranean port cities

[17]Contorta Sant’Angelo Canal alternative project, Autorità Portuale web site

[1]Cannatella D., Poli G., Sposito S., (2014). Venezia da città con porto a città-porto: proposta di rigenerazione urbana della Marittima, in Territorio della Ricerca su Insediamenti ed Ambiente, Vol. 7, n.1, Napoli, Italia;

[3]Accessibilità nautica alla Laguna di Venezia, Autorità Portuale

[15]D’Alpaos L. (2010). Fatti e Misfatti di Idraulica Lagunare. La laguna di Venezia dalla diversione dei fiumi alle nuove opere alle bocche di porto, Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, Venice.

[16]Fabbri G. (2014). Venezia, la Laguna, il Porto e il Gigantismo Navale. Le grandi navi fuori dalla laguna. Libro Bianco, Comitato NO Grandi Navi-Laguna Bene Comune, Venice.

[11]Venezia Terminal Passeggeri (2014).Dati Traffico Passeggeri nel Porto di Venezia 1997-2013

[19]Alternative project off-shore port: proposal of Boato, Giacomini, Vittadini:

[18]Alternative project off-shore port: proposal of De Piccoli:

[21]Alternative project: new cruise ships terminal in Marghera:

[20]Alternative project Canale Grande Capacità Sud Giudecca

[4]Articol, in The Art Newspaper su impatti ambientali attuali e futuri

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Venezia Terminal Passeggeri web site:

Port Authority of Venice web site

Italia Nostra Venezia web site:

Online articles

Comitato NO Grandi Navi web site:

Other documents

Water manifestation

No Grandi Navi protest

No grandi navi flag

Meta information

Contributor:Stefano Quaglia, [email protected] - CDCA
Last update18/12/2014



Water manifestation


No Grandi Navi protest



No grandi navi flag