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UNESCO currently lists 1052 sites, world-wide, that are officially recognised as ‘World Heritage Sites’. Italy is the current champion nation – it has 51 world heritage sites (the UK and British overseas Territories has 30). One of Italy’s greatest World Heritage sites is ‘Venice and its Lagoon’, and quite right too.

However, there is a process by which a listed site can be de-listed, and the first formal step in this process is an official statement that the site is ‘In Danger’. The Italian government has apparently been on notice for a few years that Venice might be placed on the ‘In Danger’ list. Formal consideration of this was avoided at last year’s meeting of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee thanks to strenuous lobbying by the Italian government to remove the issue from the agenda, but it may be considered at this year’s meeting of the Committee which will be held in Krakow between 2nd and 12th July. The reason for the possible ‘In Danger’ status is the impact of tourism on Venice, and cruise ships are held to be the worst example of tourism in Venice. With the approach of the committee meeting scapegoats are already being sought should the ‘In Danger listing happen, and the cruise industry seems to be first in the firing line.

Regular readers will be aware that I’ve done a number of articles over the years about the arguments regarding cruise ships in Venice. The present position is:

  • ships with a tonnage over 96,000 are prohibited from traversing St Mark’s Basin, which effectively prevents them from getting to the Venice cruise terminal;
  • a maximum of four ships at a time are allowed in the cruise terminal;
  • efforts are being made to find an alternative channel to the cruise terminal that won’t require a transit of St Mark’s Basin. In practice the only possibility is the restoration of an old channel from the mainland shore to the terminal.

The ban on larger ships came into force for the 2015 season although there were a number of legal moves, both pro and anti, that caused some uncertainty into 2015. However, the ban seems to be being observed – doing cruise searches on booking sites for this summer shows that the very large ships that used to call at Venice are no longer doing so. For example, much protest was made about the deployment of the 139,000 ton MSC Divina to Venice in 2012 from where she made weekly cruises, and thus was traversing St. Mark’s Basin every week, in both directions; but as far as I can see, MSC no longer have her or her sister (MSC Preziosa) running to Venice. Instead they have home-ported the smaller MSC Musica (92,000 tons) and even the significantly older and smaller MSC Sinfonia (65,000 tons) since 2015. As an another example, in 2014 P&O did fly-cruises out of Venice using Ventura (113,000 tons), and occasional calls by her equally-sized sister ship Azura, but in 2015 Ventura was replaced by the significantly-smaller Oceana (77,000 tons) for the fly-cruises. They also no longer depart from Venice – instead they now depart from Malta and make a fortnightly call at Venice. Additionally, ex-Southampton cruises to Venice by P&O use their smaller and older ships – Oriana, Aurora and Arcadia (all safely below 96,000 toms); Ventura, Azura and the more recent (and larger) Britannia don’t make calls at Venice. Similarly (and as a final example) Celebrity Cruises no longer call at Venice with their Solstice class ships (122,000 tons) but instead use the Millennium-class ships (91,000 tons).

So it’s certainly true that the size of cruise ships calling at Venice has reduced. That has a knock-on effect, of course: smaller ships have fewer passengers. In September 2013 I reported in a post that the ‘port load’ for the coming weekend was a massive 41,775 passengers (Friday to Sunday inclusive). In contrast the port load (according to cruisett.com) for next weekend looks as if it will be about 20,000. Looking quickly through the summer months on cruisett.com, that looks like the maximum while some weekends show smaller numbers.

So where does that leave us? Well, there’s no doubt that Venice is very crowded, probably too crowded. There are many other problems as well, of course: there’s still the issue over the possible flooding of the lagoon, and the barrier that’s being built that may or may not resolve that problem; and there’s the fact that the population of Venice is shrinking because property has become prohibitively expensive – young people are moving to the mainland in search of affordable accommodation. Then there are the seemingly-intractable political problems, in that responsibility for various things (e.g. the cruise port) seems to be split between competing bodies – the city of Venice doesn’t run the cruise port, for example – and Venice is lumped in with the mainland communities for many decision-making bodies. As a result the historic city doesn’t have control over its own affairs.

I don’t know what the answer to the issues facing Venice is. But Venice is so beautiful and seductive, in both fact and in fantasy, that visitors will continue to visit it if they possibly can, and that will always bring problems. It might be that if Venice were to lose its World Heritage Site listing – or at least be put on the ‘In Danger’ list – that might concentrate minds to work out a solution. I do think that demonising the cruise industry is wrong – the industry has responded positively to the new regulations and I’m sure that cruise passengers’ impact on the city has reduced since 2014.

PS – Just in case anyone thinks I’m coming over all superior about the silly Italians: there are 55 sites on the ‘In Danger’ list. One of these is in the UK – ‘Liverpool – World Maritime City’, and it was put on the ‘In Danger’ list in 2012 because of a proposed large-scale waterfront development, Liverpool Waters, which would impact on the World Heritage Site. The current position regarding this development is that planning permission has been granted by Liverpool City Council (in 2012) to the scheme ‘as a whole’. It was following that planning decision that UNESCO put the Heritage site on the ‘In Danger’ list.

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