Large cruise ships will be allowed back into the Venice lagoon, but will be kept away from St Mark's Square, the Italian government has announced, limiting a practice seen as an eyesore and a potential environmental risk.
The decision was taken late on Tuesday, after more than five years of debate. The idea to restrict cruise ships in Venice was first mooted in the wake of the Costa Concordia shipwreck, off the coast of Tuscany, in January 2012.
While cruise ships above 96,000 tonnes are currently banned from the Venice lagoon, new regulations will let them dock at the industrial port of Marghera, following a route quite distant from Venice city centre.
Cruisers under that tonnage will continue passing by the Giudecca Canal, which connects St Mark's Basin to Venice's tourist port, the Transport Ministry said, adding that the new rules should be operational within "about three years."
"After many months of study and very serious work, we have found a real solution," Transport Minister Graziano Delrio said in a statement. "It is possible to develop the port, to allow the cruise ships in, without jeopardising Venice's heritage."
Cruise ship traffic to Venice has boomed in the last 15 years, along with overall tourist flows, creating employment but also leading many to question whether the fragile city could sustain ever increasing visitor numbers.
Mayor Luigi Brugnaro hailed the latest decision and stressed the importance of the cruise ship industry for the local economy.
Anti-ships campaigners dismissed the news as "the worst possible solution."
The MSC Musica cruise ship is seen in Venice lagoon in this file photo.