A towering, out-of-control cruise ship rammed into a dock and a tourist river boat on a busy Venice canal on Sunday morning. Italian media reported that at least five people were injured in the crash.
The collision happened about 8:30 a.m. 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 river boat and the dock as dozens of people run away in panic.
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.
"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.
Following the accident, calls for banning cruise ships in Venice, long a source of contention in the over-extended tourist city, were renewed.
Ship unable to stop
"The MSC ship had an engine failure, which was immediately reported by the captain," Davide Calderan, head of a tugboat company involved in accompanying the ship into its berth, told Italian media.
"The engine was blocked, but with its thrust on, because the speed was increasing," he said.
The two tug boats that had been guiding the ship into the Giudecca tried to slow it, but one of the chains linking them to the giant snapped under the pressure, he added.
The accident reignited a heated row in the Serenissima over the damage caused to the city and its fragile ecosystem by cruise ships that sail exceptionally close to the shore.
While gondoliers in striped T-shirts and woven straw hats row tourists around the narrow canals, the smoking chimneys of mammoth ships loom into sight behind the city's picturesque bell towers and bridges.
Critics say the waves the ships create are eroding the foundations of the lagoon city, which regularly floods, leaving iconic sites such as Saint Mark's Square underwater.
"What happened in the port of Venice is confirmation of what we have been saying for some time," Italy's environment minister Sergio Costa wrote on Twitter.
"Cruise ships must not sail down the Giudecca. We have been working on moving them for months now... and are nearing a solution," he said.
'Risk of carnage'
Venice's port authority said it was working to resolve the accident and free up the blocked canal in the north Italian city.
"In addition to protecting the Unesco heritage city, we have to safeguard the environment, and the safety of citizens and tourists," Culture Minister Alberto Bonisoli said.
Nicola Fratoianni, an MP with the Italian Left party, noted Italy's welcoming attitude to cruise ships contrasted sharply with its hostile approach to charity rescue vessels that help migrants who run into difficulty in the Mediterranean.
"It is truly curious that a country that tries to stop ships that have saved people at sea from entering its ports allows giant steel monsters to risk carnage in Venice," he said.
MSC Cruises, founded in Italy in 1960, is a global line registered in Switzerland and based in Geneva.
One of its cruise ships, the MSC Preziosa, collided with a passenger embarkation ramp as it entered port in Venice in 2014, according to the local La Nuova daily.
The Opera, built 15 years ago, suffered a power failure in 2011 in the Baltic, forcing some 2,000 people to be disembarked in Stockholm rather than continuing their Southampton to Saint Petersburg voyage.