VENICE, Italy – The head of Venice port authority has announced new plans for a mega-port, despite the government ban on the biggest cruise ships from 2015 to save the threatened historic city.
Paolo Costa, a former mayor of the World Heritage city and now president of its Port Authority, said Venice was in danger of becoming a Disney-style heritage attraction with no other sources of revenue than tourism and that it should seek a return to the days when it was a successful trading power.
Mr Costa hopes a massive offshore port facility in the Adriatic means Venice could reprise its historic role as a fulcrum of trade between East and West.
Centuries after it dominated commerce in the eastern Mediterranean, with fortified trading posts along the coast of Dalmatia and as far east as the Greek island of Rhodes, Venice needed to look to maritime trade to restore its flagging fortunes.
Mr Costa, a former public works minister in a centre-Left government, said he wanted to see the construction of the massive offshore port, just beyond the sandy barrier islands that protect Venice’s lagoon from the open sea.
The port would enable the city to handle far more trade than its current container terminal at Porto Marghera, which lies across the lagoon from the historic heart of Venice, famed for its canals, stone bridges, palaces and cultural treasures.
Building the new facility would cost between €2 and 2.8 billion euros, with the money to come both from the government and private enterprise.
It would be located eight miles offshore, where the sea depth is around 70ft, allowing the largest container ships in the world to dock and unload their cargo. Sheltered by a three-mile-long breakwater, it would also feature an oil terminal.
Venice handles a tiny amount of trade compared to ports such as Rotterdam and Singapore, as measured by TEUs, or Twenty-foot Equivalent Units, the standard measurement of container trade.
While Singapore handled 60 million TEUs a year and Rotterdam had a capacity of 12 million, Venice dealt with just 450,000 units a year, Mr Costa said.
“With the deep sea platform we could develop the port and protect the lagoon.
“Venice cannot just be a heritage Disneyland preserved in mothballs. That is a vision of necrophiliacs. Without a busy port, Venice will die. The platform would enable the Adriatic, not only Venice but also Trieste, to resume a role in world trade,” Mr Costa told Corriere della Sera newspaper.
“Today we have an historic opportunity – to once again connect East and West with a big port in the Adriatic.”
He also called for work to start on dredging a new channel in the Venetian lagoon to allow giant cruise ships to reach the city’s cruise vessel terminal.
The Italian government announced earlier this month that from 2015 it plans to ban the biggest cruise liners – those over 96,000 tonnes – from plying their current route, which takes them within a few hundred yards of St Mark’s Square and the Grand Canal.
Instead they will have to travel along a new channel, known as the Contorta Sant’Angelo, which will give a wide berth to Venice’s historic centre.
Environmentalists oppose the new channel, saying it will alter the ecology of the lagoon and result in surges of seawater which could damage Venice’s centuries-old buildings.
Mr Costa dismissed those concerns, saying the lagoon has been altered so radically over the centuries that it is no longer a pristine environment.
“The lagoon has always been adapted in order to defend the principal source of Venice’s power – its port.
“It is no longer a natural environment. The Venetian doges changed the course of four rivers in order to develop the port.”
He said he hoped the new channel could be dredged within two years.
“Given that the size of ships has tripled in recent years, finding a solution is even more urgent.”
The cruise ship industry, which claims it sustains around 10,000 jobs in Venice, is anxious to see work begin on the new channel as soon as possible.