Owners of Venice crash ocean cruise liner face compensation bill in the millions following English High Court ruling

MSC Cruises (logo)Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection  (logo)Owners of an ocean cruise liner that ploughed into a luxury river ship in a Venice canal will have to pay millions of pounds in compensation after a landmark ruling by the High Court of England and Wales.

Ocean cruise liners were banned from Venice’s waterways following the crash between the 65,000 tonne ocean cruise liner MSC Opera and the smaller luxury river ship River Countess in June 2019, crushing its bow and putting the River Countess out of service for a number of months. Luckily no lives were lost.

MSC Cruises, the owners of the 1,000-cabin ocean cruise liner, admitted full liability for the collision in March last year but argued that the substantial loss of earnings for the cancelled cruises was not recoverable under Italian law.

But Uniworld Cruises, who own the River Countess and were represented by national law firm Devonshires, successfully argued at the High Court that non-physical losses could also be recovered under Italian law in addition to physical losses.

Uniworld was forced to refund and compensate 1,600 customers whose trips were cancelled and repair the River Countess. It also paid compensation, hospital bills and repatriation costs for injured passengers.

Judgment was awarded by the High Court last week against MSC Cruise Management Limited for €2.4m (£2m) plus interest for physical losses, which could rise to a total in excess of €7.5m (£6.35m) including non-physical losses.

Ellen Bettridge CEO from Uniworld said: “For years, the city of Venice has been plagued by massive ocean cruise liners being able to dock in the historic city, causing an eyesore to its beauty. It took an incident of this nature to bring about change. It is testament to the quality of engineering of our luxury river vessel and its well-trained crew that no lives were lost.”

David Pack, partner at Devonshires who acts for Uniworld, said: “This is a landmark decision that means our clients will be able to recover the substantial losses they faced as a result of an incident where they were entirely blameless. Owners are finally being held to account for the actions of one of its vessels and this case should act as a warning to other operators of ocean liners not just in Venice but globally.”

The Italian Government announced that they would reroute ocean cruise liners away from the historic city in August 2019, two months after the MSC Opera and River Countess collision. Ocean cruise liners were then supposedly completely banned from the historic city in March this year and operators were told that they would have to dock outside at the industrial port of Marghera.

However, to make it feasible to redirect ocean cruise liners to Marghera port infrastructure work had to be carried out first and ocean cruise liners entered the city again in June. Following protests, a full ban of ocean cruise liners in Venice was brought in on August 1.

The hearing was held before Mr Justice Andrew Barker sitting in the Admiralty Court, on October 4, 2021.

(Source: Devonshires)