As It Happens

Venice risks being put on endangered list if it doesn't ban cruise ships, says UN agency

The United Nations heritage agency may move Venice to its list of endangered sites if the historic city continues to allow massive cruise ships to dock in his fragile canals. 

Marco Baravalle, an anti-cruise advocate, says he welcomes the UNESCO proposal

The MSC Magnifica cruise ship is seen from San Maggiore's bell tower leaving in the Venice Lagoon on June 9, 2019. (Miguel Medina/AFP via Getty Images)

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In a draft report released on Monday, officials at UNESCO recommended the Italian city be moved to its "World Heritage in Danger" list. Marco Baravalle of the anti-cruise ship organization Comitato No Grandi Navi welcomes the news. 6:30

The United Nations heritage agency may move Venice to its list of endangered sites if the historic city continues to allow massive cruise ships to dock in its fragile lagoon.

In a draft report released on Monday, officials at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recommended the Italian city be moved to its "World Heritage in Danger" list.  

The recommendation has the Italian government on edge about the status of its world-famous lagoon city. But local advocates say it's about time.

"I think UNESCO is right in threatening to put Venice on the blacklist," Marco Baravalle of the anti-cruise ship organization Comitato No Grandi Navi, told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

UNESCO's world heritage committee will make a final decision on Venice's status during its meeting in July. 

While the move doesn't have any immediate practical implications, it could be viewed as a black eye for the world-famous tourist destination.

The problem with cruise ships

Baravalle says cruise ships are simply too large for Venice's lagoons and can cause damage to the historic city's environment and infrastructure.

He pointed to an incident in June 2019, in which a cruise ship passing through the Giudecca canal crashed into a wharf and a tourist boat, injuring five people.

"We were lucky two years ago that there were no serious casualties," he said.

What's more, he says the massive ships are huge polluters, and leave their engines running while docked in the city.

"Last, but not least, I think they are the most arrogant symbol of the tourist economy in Venice … which has been very harmful in relation to the city."

People applaud as the 16-deck MSC Orchestra cruise ship departs from Venice, Italy, on June 5. The first cruise ship leaving Venice since the pandemic has activists demanding that the enormous ships be permanently rerouted out the fragile lagoon. (Antonio Calanni/The Associated Press)

Last month, Venice saw its first cruise ship in the Giudecca canal since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Hundreds of residents gathered to welcome the boat as a sign that the tourism economy is finally rebounding after the pandemic. 

Others — like Baravalle — protested. 

"There was rage because it looks like the pandemic didn't teach us anything," he said. 

"The pandemic, of course, was a tragedy because of the cost in human lives, because of the financial impact on the city. But really, it showed how this touristic model of development is so fragile. And if you invest the whole economy of the city on tourism, then when something happens, I mean, the whole city goes bankrupt in one year."

UNESCO clout 

Venice has been a designated world heritage site since 1987, but UNESCO has long warned that it is "threatened on several fronts – from overtourism, from damage caused by a steady stream of cruise ships, including ones weighing over 40,000 tonnes, and from the potential negative effects of new developments."

UNESCO says its World Heritage in Danger list is "designed to inform the international community of conditions which threaten the very characteristics for which a property was inscribed on the World Heritage List, and to encourage corrective action."

"Unfortunately, the UNESCO decision has been in the air for some time," Italian culture minister Dario Franceschini told the Guardian newspaper

"Putting Venice on the UN endangered list would be a serious problem for our country, and there is no more time to waste."

Marco Baravalle is part of the anti-cruise ship Comitato No Grandi Navi in Venice. (Submitted by Marco Baravalle)

But Baravalle says the government has had plenty of opportunities to address the issue.

In March, the Italian government issued a decree vowing to ban cruise ships in the city centre until a new cruise terminal could be constructed outside the city, and instead reroute ships to Venice's largest industrial port, Marghera.

But more infrastructure needs to be built before that can happen. With much of the world opening back up, the cruise industry continues unobstructed in Venice for now.  

"What we are urging the government to do is basically to issue a realistic roadmap with the decision to take these boats outside the lagoon," Baravalle said.

"Unfortunately, we've lost our faith in the words of politicians of both sides, whether it be right wing or left wing. We really need now concrete solutions."


Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview with Marco Baravalle produced by Kevin Robertson.


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