The incident

At about 8.30am local time on Sunday, the 275-metres- long cruise ship hit the moored tourist boat 'River Countess' on the Giudecca canal, one of busiest tourist attractions in the city.

Videos circulated in social media depict the huge cruise ship heading for the dock, like a scene from a disaster movie causing panic to witnesses:

In an official statement, MSC Cruises said the ship experienced a technical issue while maneuvering towards Venice’s cruise terminal for mooring.

Subsequently, the ship proceeded with lifting the anchors which had been lowered into the water at the time of the incident, as per procedure in such cases. At 13:15 the ship was able to move towards the Marittima terminal.

The next day, MSC Cruises received permission from the authorities to commence the repair works, which concluded by 4 June. The damage to the ship was limited to the outermost part of the hull.

The company also confirmed that the Master of MSC Opera and its DPA received notice of the opening of an investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office in Venice.


Elements of investigation

Although the UK MAIB is not involved in the official investigation that began shortly after, Mr. Travis cited the key elements of the investigation to determine the causes of such an incident.

The first notable thing to consider is what type of ships are involved in the accident. When a passenger vessel or a cruise ship is involved, the amount of data available to support the accident investigation increases significantly, Mr. Travis noted.

But what kind of data does an investigation need? The primary source of electronic evidence for an investigation is the Voyage Data recorder (VDR), which is the marine equivalent of a black box for airplanes. These record audio on the bridge, the radar, any VHF radio transmissions, propulsion, steering, what has been requested and provided, and so on. This is a major source of information for every ship.

But on a cruise ship, there are also other sources of information available. For instance, modern cruise ships have typically several hundreds of CCTVs (Closed-circuit television), providing a huge insight on what is happening inside the vessel.

In cases like the MSC Opera, amateur videos from eye witnesses that circulate through social media are also a helpful source of information, Mr Travis added.

Gathering a vast amount of available data can help investigators create simulations to build up a complete picture of what happened.

...A few years ago we designed a suit of software tools that provide a means of comparative analysis of all available data, whatever the source is. Once we can timeline everything, we can replay everything in a sychronized fashion and that can be really valuable in building up completely the picture of what is going on.