An Australian man watched people go flying while aboard an out-of-control cruise ship that rammed a wharf and a ferry in the Italian city of Venice.
Robert Lauretti was enjoying breakfast with friends on the balcony of the MSC Opera when the towering ship hit the dock and ferry as it tried to berth on the Giudecca Canal on Sunday.
Mr Lauretti has told of watching a woman and a man go flying, but did not specify if they were on his ship, the ferry or the dock.
“There were people running everywhere, in every direction,” he told the Nine network from the ship, which is still in Venice being repaired.
“The one we noticed the most, it looked like a lady … she was the last one to run down the stairs on the top deck and as the ship actually hit, she flipped.
“I’m sure we saw a man flip into the water as the boat went past.”
Officials said five women, including two Australians and a New Zealander, aged between 67 and 72, were injured as they tried to run away from the ship.
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But on the cruise ship itself, the collision was barely felt.
“My friends were on the balcony with us. They were saying brace, brace,” he said.
“We were bracing quite hard but oddly enough we could hardly feel the actual impact.”
Mr Lauretti said he’d decided to venture out onto his balcony to watch the ship berth.
“The closer it got the more we started to freak out, regarding the fact that it wasn’t turning.
“There was not much we could do. We had the best seat in the house for it, I can tell you that.”
He said it was lucky the cruise ship went between the dock and the smaller vessel, with the only visual damage to the cruise ship being scrapes along its side.
But Mr Lauretti said he’d been told one of the ship’s anchors has also been torn off during frantic efforts to stop the 2679-passenger vessel.
The cruise ship’s owner, MSC Cruises, has said the ship suffered a mechanical problem, and there are reports a steel cable connected to a tugboat snapped.
MSC Cruises said the 2679-passenger Opera, a 54-metre high and 275-metre long liner that dwarfed the Venice skyline, was approaching a passenger terminal on the Giudecca canal when it hit the dock and a nearby ferry.
Footage of the incident showed passengers who had been waiting at a wharf in San Basilio-Zattere fleeing as the huge ship, its horns blaring, crashed into the much smaller, moored River Countess boat, which had 110 people onboard.
“I thought the ship was going to crash into my house,” a nearby resident told Italy’s state television.
Emergency workers said the cruise ship appeared to have lost control after a steel cable that tied it to a tugboat snapped.
The accident rekindled a heated row in Italy over the risks to the fragile ecosystem and monuments of Venice posed by cruise ships that routinely sail very close to the shore.
The safety of big ships in European cities has also been highlighted by last week’s crash of a tourist boat with a pleasure boat on the Danube in Budapest. Twenty-eight people were presumed killed, nearly all South Korean tourists.
Italian Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli said on Twitter the Venice incident was proof that big ships should not travel on the Giudecca, a major thoroughfare that leads to St Mark’s Square.
“After many years of inertia, we are finally close to a definitive solution to protect both the lagoon and tourism,” he said.
Ships weighing more than 96,000 tonnes were banned from the Giudecca canal in 2013, while the number of smaller ships using the waterway was limited to five a day. That legislation was overturned in late 2015.
The Italian government decided in 2017 that the largest ships weighing more than 100,000 tonnes would have to take a less glamorous route to the industrial port of Marghera, far from the Giudecca and Grand canals.
However, those plans were expected to take four years to come into force.
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