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ENVIRONMENT

Venice dodges Unesco ‘endangered’ listing after placing new limit on cruise ships

Venice has avoided being named a world heritage site in danger by UNESCO on Thursday after Italy moved to ban large cruise ships from sailing into the city centre.

Venice dodges Unesco 'endangered' listing after placing new limit on cruise ships
Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

The city has been on UNESCO’s heritage list since 1987, but the UN body warned last month of the need for “more sustainable tourism management”, recommending that Venice be added to its endangered list.

The World Heritage Committee meeting in Fuzhou, China, cited Italy’s recent ban and gave Italian authorities until next December to report back on efforts to preserve the city’s ecosystem and heritage.

ANALYSIS: Is Venice really banning cruise ships from the lagoon at last?

Italy’s Culture Minister Dario Franceschini welcomed the decision, but said “attention on Venice must remain high”, underlying the need to identify a “sustainable development path”.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi expressed “great satisfaction” at the decision.

For years, campaigners have been calling for an end to cruise ships sailing past St Mark’s Square.

Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

They say the giant floating hotels cause large waves that undermine the city’s foundations and harm the fragile ecosystem of its lagoon.

But many Venice residents, environmental campaigners and tourism experts have warned that the move would not be as beneficial as it appeared – and could in fact make existing problems worse .

“Yes, it is true that from August 1st cruise ships will no longer pass in front of Saint Mark’s,” stated Venezia Autentica, a group promoting sustainable tourism businesses in Venice.

“However, cruise ships will still enter the Venetian lagoon through the “back door”, hidden from plain sight,” it says. 

“They will reach Venice through an existing channel that will be further enlarged to accommodate those ships and will have devastating repercussions on the local environment.”

READ ALSO: ‘The myth of Venice’: How the Venetian brand helps the city survive

According to the government’s ban, the largest ships will be banned from entering the Basin of San Marco, the Canal of San Marco and the Giudecca Canal as of August 1st.

They will be diverted to the industrial port of Marghera, whereas smaller cruise ships, holding about 200 passengers, can continue to reach the heart of the city.

Unesco’s Director General described the move as “very good news and an important step that significantly contributes to the safeguarding of this unique heritage site.”

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VENICE

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.

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