Venice bans large cruise ships from centre after Unesco threat of ‘endangered’ status

Larger cruise ships will be banned from sailing into the centre of Venice from August 1st, Italy has announced, after Unesco's threat to add the city to its list of endangered heritage sites.

Venice bans large cruise ships from centre after Unesco threat of 'endangered' status
Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi announced on Tuesday that the ships would no longer be able to sail into the lagoon, after years of warnings about their impact on the local ecosystem.

The decision comes just days before a meeting of the UN’s cultural organisation Unesco, which had said it would rule on whether to add Venice to its endangered list.

READ ALSO: Is Venice really banning cruise ships this time?

“The decree adopted today represents an important step for the protection of the Venetian lagoon system,” Prime Minister Mario Draghi said after the decree was approved at a cabinet meeting.

The biggest ships will now be diverted to the city’s industrial port of Marghera.

“From August 1, large ships will no longer be able to reach Venice through the St Mark’s Basin, the St Mark’s Canal or the Giudecca Canal,” Infrastructure Minister Enrico Giovannini said.

He said the ban was a “necessary step to protect the environmental, landscape, artistic and cultural integrity of Venice”.

Environmental protesters in Venice have demonstrated for years against the presence of cruise ships in the lagoon. Photo: Marco Sabadin/AFP

There would be compensation for those who lost out financially from the move, ministers said, and 157 million euros ($185 million) was being invested in the Marghera port.

However, this is viewed as only a temporary solution, with ministers calling for ideas on a new permanent terminal.

The ban will only apply to the biggest ships, with those carrying around 200 passengers viewed as “sustainable” and still allowed into the centre.

Those that fulfil any of four criteria will be banned: weighing more than 25,000 tonnes, measuring more than 180 metres long, more than 35 metres high or producing more than 0.1 percent sulphur.

The passengers aboard cruise ships provide a huge economic boost to Venice, but many residents say the giant floating hotels should not sail past the iconic St Mark’s Square.

They warn the ships cause large waves that undermine the city’s foundations and harm the fragile ecosystem of its lagoon.

The long-running debate over cruise ships was reignited by the return last month of cruises after the coronavirus pandemic, when the throngs of tourists that normally fill the streets stayed away.

READ ALSO: Hundreds demonstrate against cruise ships’ return to Venice

Venice was put on Unesco’s heritage list in 1987 as an “extraordinary architectural masterpiece”, but the body warned last month of the need for “more sustainable tourism management”.

After years of debate, Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said the government had decided to act now “to avoid the real risk of the city’s inclusion on the endangered world heritage list”.

However some people in Venice said they remained sceptical on Wednesday, as the government has previously passed a series of decrees supposedly ‘banning’ cruise ships, which did not in fact result in them being removed from the lagoon.

The vice-president of tourism association Confturismo, Marco Michielli, said the new law represented a “good compromise”.

READ ALSO: ‘More local, more authentic’: How can Italy move toward responsible tourism in future?

“The Marghera solution would maintain port activity in Venice, on the one hand safeguard jobs and activities, and on the other free up the Giudecca Canal on the other,” he said.

The issue of cruise ships in Venice has sparked global debate, and last month celebrities and cultural figures including Mick Jagger, Francis Ford Coppola and Richard Armstrong, director of the New York’s Solomon R.Guggenheim Museum, issued a call for action.

In an open letter to the Italian government calling for a range of measures to better protect the city, they warned the historic site risked being “swept away” by cruise ships.

Member comments

  1. It’s a shame it took UNESCO’s threat of an endangered heritage site, before action was taken. Better late than never.

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Italy to pay €57m compensation over Venice cruise ship ban

The Italian government announced on Friday it would pay 57.5 million euros in compensation to cruise companies affected by the decision to ban large ships from Venice's fragile lagoon.

A cruise ship in St Mark's Basin, Venice.
The decision to limit cruise ship access to the Venice lagoon has come at a cost. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

The new rules, which took effect in August, followed years of warnings that the giant floating hotels risked causing irreparable damage to the lagoon city, a UNESCO world heritage site.

READ ALSO: Venice bans large cruise ships from centre after Unesco threat of ‘endangered’ status

Some 30 million euros has been allocated for 2021 for shipping companies who incurred costs in “rescheduling routes and refunding passengers who cancelled trips”, the infrastructure ministry said in a statement.

A further 27.5 million euros – five million this year and the rest in 2022 – was allocated for the terminal operator and related companies, it said.

The decision to ban large cruise ships from the centre of Venice in July came just days before a meeting of the UN’s cultural organisation Unesco, which had proposed adding Venice to a list of endangered heritage sites over inaction on cruise ships.

READ ALSO: Is Venice really banning cruise ships from its lagoon?

Under the government’s plan, cruise ships will not be banned from Venice altogether but the biggest vessels will no longer be able to pass through St Mark’s Basin, St Mark’s Canal or the Giudecca Canal. Instead, they’ll be diverted to the industrial port at Marghera.

But critics of the plan point out that Marghera – which is on the mainland, as opposed to the passenger terminal located in the islands – is still within the Venice lagoon.

Some aspects of the plan remain unclear, as infrastructure at Marghera is still being built. Meanwhile, smaller cruise liners are still allowed through St Mark’s and the Giudecca canals.

Cruise ships provide a huge economic boost to Venice, but activists and residents say the ships contribute to problems caused by ‘overtourism’ and cause large waves that undermine the city’s foundations and harm the fragile ecosystem of its lagoon.