Our cruise ship lawyers here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. have written about the environmental impact of the cruise industry and the lack of transparency of the industry in reporting pollution and waste management on board cruise ships many times before. The problem has become so serious that certain countries have gone as far as to ban cruise ships from docking or to limit the places and beaches where cruise ships can dock.
In 2014, Venice banned large cruise ships from travelling in Saint Mark’s basin and in the Giudecca Canal. The decision was made to protect Venice and the environment from damage that these large ships can cause. The ban was put into effect as a result of the Costa Concordia disaster. Fox News reports that celebrities, including Michael Douglas and Cate Blanchett supported the ban, citing the fact that large cruise ships can increase the risk of flooding in Venice. The city is already subject to serious flooding on a regular basis.
Yet, recent news reports reveal that Venice has had a change of heart about the ban. Tourism groups rallied to support a ban—but only after alternate canals and infrastructure has been put in place to properly re-route cruise vessels. The Contorta Sant’Angelo Channel, when completed, will afford larger cruise ships a safer passage through Venice.
While cruise ships definitely pose environmental and structural hazards to the city, it seems that Venice simply cannot afford to lose the tourism. The ban would have prevented 300,000 passengers from visiting Venice, meaning a loss in crucial tourism money to the city.
Venice’s decision to lift its ban highlights the seriousness of the problem. If Venice, a city that receives tourism from a variety of sources, including air and land travel, was forced to admit cruise ships despite the damage they cause, one cannot help but wonder what other kind of environmental sacrifices are being made in countries where the primary tourists arrive via cruise ships, and where the infrastructure money may not be available to mitigate environmental damage. In a previous article, we discussed that countries like Belize, sacrifice certain areas of beach and coast to cruise ship traffic, well aware of the environmental impact these behemoths cause.
Venice is in a fortunate position, with the Contorta Sant’Angelo Channel scheduled for completion in 2016. But, what about countries and ports of call where expensive environmental and infrastructure mitigation projects are simply out of the financial question?
The ban in Venice would have restricted boats over 96,000 tons from entering the waterways, allowing only five ships at 40,000 tons into its waterways. Government officials criticized the lift, stating that cruise traffic was being favored to the public interest.
The question at stake here is one of size. If Venice is having trouble with large cruise ships, surely other ports of call face similar challenges. Have cruise ships simply become too large? In December, we wrote about the danger large cruise ships pose to passengers. When captains and crew are responsible for what is essentially a small-town population—without the infrastructure to support it—problems are sure to arise. Cruise ships don’t have the medical facilities, the fire fighting capability, nor do they have the kind of infrastructure small towns have to deal with problems when they arise.
The cruise industry and ports of call need to consider the long-term damage these larger cruise ships can cause. Until local governments place harsher regulations on the size and types of cruise ships allowed to dock, cruise lines will continue to fail in terms of transparently for their impact on local ecosystems and cities. Perhaps local governments will have to start placing limits on the size of vessels allowed to dock at ports of call? Maybe then the cruise industry will finally respond by developing ships with more environmental mitigation practices.