UNESCO Calls for Ban on Cruise Ships in Venice's City Center

UNESCO says Venice maybe lists as endangered
MSC Orchestra was met by protestors arrriving back in Venice (@CQIX/Twiter)

Published Jun 22, 2021 6:54 PM by The Maritime Executive

The controversy over large cruise ships sailing through the heart of Venice and docking in the historic city was renewed with news that UNESCO, the UN’s world heritage organization, is considering adding Venice to its list of endangered treasures. The renewed call for an immediate ban on all large cruise ships came less than three weeks after the first cruise ship docked in the city in more than a year and a half.

UNESCO fueled the debate over actions needed to save the city that is increasingly finding itself overwhelmed by rising seawater. Saying that it believes the fate of the city may be in danger if officials don’t take immediate actions, UNESCO said it would be considering a proposal during its upcoming meetings during the second half of July. They specifically singled out the perception that cruise ships are adding to the flooding and increasing the dangers for the city on the lagoon. UNESCO is calling for a long-term solution that immediately and permanently prevents large cruise ships from entering the canals. 



Italy’s Minister of Culture, Dario Franceschini, responded to the news reports of UNESCO’s impending action saying that immediate actions were required. He acknowledged that rumors of UNESCO’s considerations had been circulating for a while but said the actions would be a serious problem for Italy. 

Other politicians and Venetian officials responded to the minister saying that the failure lays squarely with the government. They accused the national government of failing to take action for far too long. Others said it was Venice itself however that has failed to take actions to renew critical initiatives.

In March, before the cruise industry resumed service, the Italian government hailed the passage of new legislation which it said would lead to a permanent solution. The initiative called for work to begin on a long-term study for creating a new port for the large cruise ships that would keep them out of the canals but still provide an accessible location so that tourists could reach the historic city. In the meantime, the legislation said that large cruise ships would be required to divert to the industrial port of Marghera, only a few miles away. While still in the lagoon, the alternate port would stop the ships from sailing on the famed Giudecca Canal through the heart of Venice.

Closer examination of the effort however revealed that Marghera was not able to accommodate the large cruise ships without renovations to its infrastructure. The approach to the new terminal needs to be dredged to accommodate the cruise ships and the existing piers need to be lengthened as well as the creation of a terminal building. The latest estimates are that it will be a year before Marghera is ready to accommodate the cruise ships. Then the plan calls for banning cruise ships over 820 feet in length from the Giudecca Canal. Estimates are that it would eliminate up to three-quarters of the cruise traffic from Venice.



With the alternate port not yet prepared, MSC Cruises announced that it was resuming cruises from Venice at the beginning of June. Its 92,400 gross ton MSC Orchestra was met by tugboats celebrating its return to the port, as well as protestors onshore and in small boats. Port officials waving banners saying welcome back also sailing along with the cruise ship during its first arrival in June. 

Environmental groups are warning that they believe Venice’s days are numbers due to the increasing harm from the flooding. Tourism officials agreed about the importance of preserving the city, but also pointed to the jobs and economic contribution created by the more than 1.6 million cruise passengers that visited the city in 2019.