My live TV interview on TRT World News on the day large cruise ships were banned from the centre of Venice. This ban reveals this unelected Italian government cares more about UNESCO threats and its international reputation than Venetians

Click on the play symbol in the picture on the left to watch the interview.

On 13 July 2021, the Italian government cabinet passed a decree banning ships of more than 25,000 tonnes, higher than 35 metres and longer than 180 metres from navigating down the Giudecca Canal in the centre of Venice from 1 August 2021. This decree prevents these vessels from entering the lagoon at the Lido inlet and docking at the Maritime Station or other docking points in the central city. In addition to banning cruise ships, smaller vessels that carry 200-300 passengers are prohibited. These smaller vessels often bring passengers who stay in Venice’s hotels, eat in its restaurants and bring benefits to multiple tourist service businesses. Thousands of Venetians and other Italians will be negatively impacted by this decree.

The Italian government, led by the unelected prime minister Mario Draghi, has promised over 1000 port workers and companies will be compensated. This means reducing business and adding to Italy’s public debt, which is the largest in the EU. Moreover, such compensation will not reach employees and businesses indirectly working with passengers from vessels which will be banned. The Italian cruise ship association CLIA estimated in a recent report that 4000 jobs are at risk due to this decree: https://nordesteconomia.gelocal.it/economia/2021/07/15/news/mezzo-miliardo-di-ricavi-e-4-mila-lavoratori-royal-caribbean-e-norwegian-non-andranno-a-marghera-ecco-il-conto-dello-stop-alle-grandi-navi-a-venezia-1.40501143?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

The decree is irrational because large vessels will be permitted to enter the Venetian lagoon at the Malamocco inlet and dock in the industrial areas near Marghera on the mainland close to the lagoon. But docking facilities are not ready there for most vessels. €157m has been allocated to constructing docks there, but will not be ready this year. In addition, the channel in the lagoon will need to be dredged and widened for larger cruise ships to navigate it, which environmentalists point out will disturb the lagoon. In the meantime, cruise ships will need to dock far away from Venice at other ports including Trieste. Inevitably, some passengers will decide not to take cruises if they cannot come to Venice. After the decree was announced, the share prices of several cruise line companies fell by 3-4 percent.

The decision to ban large ships from the centre of Venice and then direct them to Marghera has been put forward by the current government as a temporary proposal until a port can be constructed outside the Venetian lagoon. It would be more rational to focus on constructing a terminal outside the lagoon immediately. Until this terminal is ready, cruise ships should continue navigating through central Venice and docking at the Maritime Station.

So why did Draghi’s government cabinet decide on a short-term ban which will negatively impact so many Venetians? Because this decision came three days before UNESCO discussed cruise ships as a threat to Venice and this unelected government cares more about its international reputation than Venetians. UNESCO had proposed putting Venice on its list of endangered sites if cruise ships continued to navigate through the lagoon. “A long-term solution is urgently needed,’’ said UNESCO. “A solution that will prevent total access to the lagoon, redirecting them to more suitable ports in the area.’’(https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jun/21/venice-may-be-put-on-endangered-list-if-cruise-ships-not-banned-says-unesco) UNESCO discussed whether to include Venice on its endangered list at its plenary session between July 16-31. After the decree banning cruise ships from the centre of Venice, UNESCO decided Venice will not be placed on its list of endangered sites before 2023. “Italy’s decision to ban the access of large cruise ships to the Venice Lagoon as of 1 August 2021 is a very good news and an important step that significantly contributes to the safeguarding of this unique heritage site. #Venice,” tweeted UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay (https://www.ansa.it/english/news/lifestyle/arts/2021/07/14/unesco-hails-venice-cruise-ship-ban_733dbc06-7483-4a8b-869b-788dea40ce0e.html). UNESCO has a long history of undemocratically meddling in Venetian affairs: (https://dstandish.com/2016/07/15/unesco-committee-undemocratically-calls-for-blocking-of-projects-backed-by-venices-elected-city-council-and-funded-by-italys-government/)

Claim-makers presenting Venice as endangered by cruise ships have been increasingly vocal since the tragic Costa Concordia cruise ship crash off the coast of Tuscany in 2012. Even though there have been some minor accidents with cruise ships in Venice as on 2 June 2019, the strict regulation of cruise ships in Venice means a serious crash is extremely unlikely as set out here: https://dstandish.com/2013/11/08/restrictions-on-venice-cruise-ships-will-damage-the-venetian-economy-and-environment/. It is true that cruise ships navigating through the Venetian lagoon have some negative environmental impact and disturb residents sometimes, but not when they dock at the Maritime Station. Yet cruise ships have much less impact in terms of pollution compared with thousands of voyages around the lagoon by other vessels each day, industrial waste, agricultural run-off and algae.

The claim that Venice is in peril due to cruise ships draws on the well-established mythology about the death of Venice, which has developed since the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797. Cruise ships are also symbolic of mass tourism and debates about ‘overtourism’, which Venice was identified with before COVID-19 lockdowns as I discussed with others in this TV programme on Al Jazeera: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rr5tj5HMtH4&t=6s

Banning cruise ships from the centre of Venice is unrelated to safety or protecting the lagoon environment. Instead, this decision proves that an unelected government is more responsive to an undemocratic intervention by UNESCO than to Italian people.

Map with key points of reference, created by Alex Standish:

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