In a near-miss captured on video by YouTube user Roberto Ferrucci, the Costa Deliziosa, a 12-deck cruise ship with capacity for near 3,000 people, can be seen swerving alarmingly close to land and other boats in the middle of a thunderstorm while sounding its long emergency horn.
The close call occurred while the ship was being guided out of port by tug boats along the Giudecca Canal.
“We saw her coming almost on top of us,” one witness, Alberto Peratoner, told Ansa news agency.
“It was at the moment when the storm was at its most intense… [The ship] was having visible difficulty manoeuvring and was heading for the San Biagio dock, veering slightly towards the Sette Martiri dock.”
A collision was only averted, Peratoner said, when one of the tugs pulled heavily to the right, away from shore, and managed to drag the liner clear.
Costa Cruises, the company that operates the Deliziosa, described the incident as a “detour” caused by “violent, extraordinary and sudden” bad weather.
“The captain always maintained control of the ship even in conditions of extreme and sudden difficulty,” the company said in a statement, adding that the ship had resumed its course to its planned destination.
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A protester holds a sign saying 'No big ships' after a collision in June. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP
According to the harbourmaster's office, the Costa Deliziosa may have come into contact with public transport boats and with a yacht, whose crew members reported flinging themselves to land for safety as they saw the huge ship approach.
The port authority of Venice said it reserved the right to check whether the cruise liner had followed safety procedures, while sources at the city's public prosecutor's office told Ansa they were looking into the incident.
“I have arranged an immediate ministerial inspection to verify what happened in Venice,” said Italy's minister of transport and infrastructure, Danilo Toninelli. “After 15 years of nothing, we are close to a solution for keeping big ships out of the San Marco basin. And we'll do it protecting safety, the environment, tourism and jobs.”
But the mayor of Venice, Luigi Brugnaro, on Monday blamed the transport minister for failing to take action over the cruise ships that regularly tower over Venice.
“The time for waiting is over. We're very angry. Enough of boats on St Mark's and in the Giudecca Canal. Minister Toninelli should come here as soon as possible to tell citizens' institutions about the results from the umpteenth check he ordered. Dear minister, how much longer do we have to wait?”, Brugnaro said in a statement.
Thousands of people protested in Venice last month after another mega ship lost control and rammed into a wharf in the Giudecca Canal.
The 13-deck MSC Opera suffered an engine failure, scraped along the dockside and knocked into a luxury tourist boat, slightly injuring four tourists and prompting calls for big ships to be banned from the Venetian lagoon altogether.