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Cruise ship plows into tourist boat docked in Venice

A towering cruise ship has struck a dock and a tourist river boat on a busy canal in Venice.

Italy's transport minister demands cruise ship ban in city canal

The cruise ship MSC Opera, right, is seen after Sunday's collision with a tourist boat, the River Countess, in Venice. (Andrea Merola/EPA-EFE)

A towering, out-of-control cruise ship rammed into a dock and a tourist river boat on a busy Venice canal on Sunday morning, injuring four tourists and sparking new calls for placing restrictions on cruise ships in the famed but strained tourist city. 

The collision happened around 8:30 a.m. local time on the Giudecca Canal, a major thoroughfare that leads to Saint Mark's Square in the northeastern Italian city.

Videos of the crash show the cruise ship, apparently unable to halt its momentum, blaring its horn as it plows into the much smaller boat, the River Countess, and the dock while people nearby run away in panic.

Italian media initially reported that at least five people were injured. Later, medical officials said four female tourists were hurt as they tried to run away on the San Basilio pier — an American, a New Zealander and two Australians between the ages of 67 and 72.

Elisabetta Pasqualin was watering plants on her terrace when she heard warning sirens and stepped out to see the crash.

"There was this huge ship in a diagonal position in the Giudecca Canal, with a tugboat near which seemed like it couldn't do anything," she said.

Watch as the cruise ship hits the pier and boat:

The collision happened on a busy canal that leads to Saint Mark's Square in Venice. 0:45

She described the ship "advancing slowly but inevitably toward the dock." She said "the bow of the ship crashed hard into the bank with its massive weight crushing a big piece of it. Sirens were wailing loudly; it was a very dramatic scene."

When the cruise ship rammed the river boat, she said the smaller vessel looked like it was "made of plastic or paper" rather than steel.

Call for ban on cruise ships

Shortly after the crash, a government official called for cruise ships to be banned from using the Giudecca Canal.

"Today's accident in the port of Venice proves that cruise ships shouldn't be allowed to pass down the Giudecca anymore," Danilo Toninelli, Italy's transport minister said.

"After many years of inertia, we are finally close to a solution to protect both the lagoon and tourism," he said.

Two towboats were guiding the cruise ship MSC Opera into Venice but failed to stop it from crashing into a smaller tourist boat at the San Basilio dock after the larger vessel reported mechanical problems. (Manuel Silvestri/Reuters)

Venice is a tremendously popular site for both tourists and cruise ships, especially during the summer tourist season.

The cruise ship's owner, MSC Cruises, said the ship, the MSC Opera, was about to dock at a passenger terminal in Venice when it had a mechanical problem. Two towboats guiding the cruise ship into Venice tried to stop the massive cruise ship, but they were unable to prevent it from ramming into the river boat.

MSC Cruises says it is co-operating with authorities to figure out what happened.

Tow cable broke

"The two towboats tried to stop the giant and then a tow cable broke, cut by the collision with the river boat," Davide Calderan, president of a towboat association in Venice, told the Italian news agency ANSA.

Calderan said the cruise ship's engine was locked when the captain called for help.

For many, the crash served as a wake-up call. Opponents say cruise ships are out-of-scale for Venice, cause pollution, endanger the lagoon's ecosystem and a danger to other vessels.

"Obviously, we've seen today that our worst fears have come true," said Jane Da Mosto, an environmental scientist and executive director of We Are Here Venice. Her group backs efforts to ban cruise ships from Venice.

"There were 111 people on the river cruise boat that the big ship crashed into. They could have all died," she said. She said the cruise ship could have plowed through the concrete embankment and "hit houses, monuments and crowds of people."

"The port authority, the government ministers, the other institutions have often tried to ridicule the resistance movement against the cruise ships, saying that an accident like this could never occur," she added. "The government shouldn't be so weak in giving in to the pressure of the lobby groups, like the cruise ship companies."

The collision came four days after a river cruise ship collided with a sightseeing boat carrying South Korean tourists in Hungary's capital, killing seven and leaving 21 others missing.

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