Several Spanish cruise ports have instated limits or bans on cruise ships in the last year that aim to curb the number of vessels sailing to and crowding Spanish ports, with additional concerns on the environmental impact of the vessels. However, those bans could be short-lived as the Spanish government is investigating the legality of the new rules.
The news comes as two delegates asked for stricter measures relating to cruise ships arriving in the Balearic Islands, which have led the government to state it believes the current limits lack the necessary legal provisions.
Since May 2022, the port of Palma de Mallorca, one of the busiest cruise ports in Europe, has imposed limits on the number of cruise ships that can visit the port on any single day. Only three cruise ships, of which only one can carry more than five thousand guests, are allowed in port on any given day.
In October 2023, Barcelona imposed limits tied directly to the location of the city’s docks. More specifically, cruise ships are no longer permitted to dock at the northern terminal (Barcelona Nord), near the World Trade Center Pier. Instead, cruise ships will dock at the newer Moll d’Adossat terminal at the southern end of the city. The number of ships allowed to dock in Barcelona at any given time will be limited to seven.
The popular vacation and party island Ibiza has said it hopes to implement measures similar to those in place in Palma de Mallorca and Barcelona.
However, in a surprising move, the limitations that the popular cruise ports have implemented could see an early end as the Spanish government has said it sees no legal framework for the measures.
The Spanish Ministry of Transport and Sustainable Mobility has indicated that the current legal framework does not support restrictions on cruise ships.
Inquiries from congressmen Sumar Félix Alonso and Vicen Vidal, who sought stricter regulations on cruise ship operations, including increasing taxes, concerns over environmental impact, and cleaner fuel usage, led to the surprising comment from the transport ministry, according to Europa Press.
Despite the growing number of cruise ships sailing to the Balearic Islands, the government said that emissions from international maritime traffic, including cruise ships, are not regulated in Spain. This means that limiting the number of cruise ships sailing to Spanish ports based on emissions from cruise ships would lack a legal basis, even though Barcelona is one of Europe’s most polluted ports.
The government also pointed out that of the total number of passenger vessel movements in Spanish waters in 2021, only 4.6% were cruise ships. That this number is this low is not surprising, given that the cruise industry was not operational for a large part of the year.
Any ports or cities that move to limit cruise ship access would be required to collaborate with major cruise companies represented by the International Cruise Line Association (CLIA). These actions would also need to consider the implications for coastal cities, autonomous governments, and, in particular, the tourism industry.
In 2019, the cruise sector in Spain generated nearly 6 billion euros in turnover, contributing significantly to the national GDP. This economic impact highlights the importance of the cruise industry to Spain’s economy and explains the government’s cautious stance on allowing ports and cities to restrict cruise ship numbers.
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