Cruise ship captain, four others fined for 2019 collision in Venice

MSC Opera (Photo: Ritossa)

Five crewmembers of a cruise ship operated by MSC Cruises have been found guilty of actions that resulted in a collision with another vessel in Venice on June 2, 2019.

After reviewing eyewitness testimonies as well as testimonies by subject matter experts, an Italian court decided that the captain, the chief engineer, the chief electrician, and two other crewmembers of MSC Opera were indeed responsible for the collision that left the river cruise ship River Countess heavily damaged and five people with minor injuries.

Amateur video of the incident shows MSC Opera apparently sailing out of control and ramming into a dock and the moored River Countess while manoeuvring to berth at Venice’s Giudecca canal at around 08:30 local time on the said date. The smaller vessel sustained significant damage while five people suffered injuries as they ran for safety to avoid the oncoming 65,000-tonne cruise ship.

Experts pointed out that the chief engineer and the chief electrician had failed to address a warning on the main electrical switchboard that indicated a possible problem with the power supply to the engine and the steering controls. The bridge controls soon after began drawing power from the emergency backups since the two officers had failed to resolve the problem.

The anomaly occurred while the ship was still in the lagoon well before it began entering the waters of the canal, the experts added.

The ship then manoeuvred towards the docks with the assistance of two tugs and with the bridge controls still operating on emergency backup power, which was designed to last no more than 30 minutes.

As MSC Opera had spent nearly an hour transiting from the lagoon to the Giudecca canal, the emergency power system eventually failed, resulting in the crew being unable to steer or reduce speed upon nearing the docks and making the collision unavoidable.

The same court exonerated MSC Opera‘s co-navigator, officer on watch, and security officer, and the tug captains, all of whom were also initially charged in connection with the incident.

The captain was originally sentenced to an imprisonment of five months while the chief engineer and the chief electrician were to be imprisoned for two months and the remaining two crewmembers were to be imprisoned for only 10 days. However, MSC Cruises said in a recent statement that the offences were deemed minor by the Italian legal code, and this has enabled the five defendants to commute their respective prison sentences into monetary fines instead.

MSC Cruises added that because of this new development, none of its personnel will serve jail time and the company itself is free to “pursue other avenues of action” with the goal of identifying what it believes to be the true causes of the mishap.

The company said that no one has admitted liability in connection with the incident.

MSC Cruises had earlier countered that the collision should be blamed on inherent design flaws in the ship, which was built by French shipyard Chantiers de l’Atlantique in 2004.

The operator claimed that the same flaws were the reason the ship’s monitoring and surveillance systems failed to set off any alarms that would have otherwise alerted the crew to the power supply problem.

Note: This news story was updated on February 16, 2021, in light of the availability of new information from operator MSC Cruises in relation to the June 2, 2019 incident involving MSC Opera.

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