An out-of-control MSC Cruises ocean ship plowed into a docked Uniworld river cruise ship in Venice on Sunday morning, injuring at least five people as passengers fled the much smaller vessel in panic, the Associated Press reported.

It was the second accident involving a river cruise ship in Europe in less than a week, and the fourth since October.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection confirmed the River Countess had been struck, and the company said further information would be forthcoming as it is available.

The AP, citing Italian media, said the collision happened Sunday at about 8:30 a.m. on the Giudecca Canal, a major thoroughfare that leads to Saint Mark's Square in the popular tourism destination.

MSC Cruises said the MSC Opera was about to dock when it had a mechanical problem and called for help, but two tug boats guiding it in were unable to stop the collision, the AP reported.

Italian media have posted an audio clip of the MSC Opera's pilot telling emergency officials that the cruise ship experienced a loss of controls and "activated all the procedures to avoid" a collision with a riverboat and dock in Venice, the AP reported. The pilot said anchors were dropped and that tugboats connected to the ship's bow and stern took maneuvers to stop the ship. The pilot is heard saying that "here on the bridge, we don't understand what happened." An investigation has been launched.

Videos of the crash show the ship blaring its horn as it plowed into the much smaller river boat, which one witness told the AP crumpled as if it were made of paper.

People were seen rushing to disembark from the moored riverboat over a short gangplank, and at least two people were left caught on the walkway as the vessel was dislodged from the pier, the AP reported.

Local officials told the AP five women aboard the riverboat were injured. They said one was released immediately from a hospital, while four others were advised to remain under medical care for a few days.

Earlier, medical authorities said four of the women -- an American, a New Zealander and two Australians between the ages of 67 and 72 -- were injured falling or trying to run away when the cruise ship rammed into the River Countess.

Elisabetta Pasqualin told the AP she was watering plants on her terrace when she heard warning sirens.

"There was this huge ship in a diagonal position in the Giudecca Canal, with a tugboat near which seemed like it couldn't do anything," she said.

She described the ship "advancing slowly but inevitably towards the dock." She said "the bow of the ship crashed hard into the bank with its massive weight crushing a big piece of it. Sirens were wailing loudly; it was a very dramatic scene."

When the cruise ship rammed the riverboat, she said the smaller vessel looked like it was "made of plastic or paper" rather than steel.

According to the AP, the accident has reignited calls to ban cruise ships in the Venice, a city that has become a poster child for overtourism.

Other recent accidents on European waterways have raised questions and concerns about the number of river cruise ships sharing the rivers with thousands of barges and other vessels. There currently are more than 350 passenger ships and more than 13,000 cargo and other vessels plying Europe's waterways.

On Wednesday, a Viking river ship struck a sightseeing boat during a night sailing on the Danube in Budapest, killing at least seven people. Seven were rescued and 21 more were missing in the fast-flowing waters.

That collision is expected to lead to some changes on that busy stretch of the Danube, where river cruise ships and small tour boats take to the waters at night to sail past Hungary's famous and brightly lit Parliament building. Some are calling for banning river cruise ships from making the so-called illumination sailings.

The Budapest accident was the second collision in two months involving a Viking ship. In April, the Viking Idun collided with a cargo vessel while sailing through Belgium. And last October, Crystal River Cruises' Crystal Bach was hit by a cargo vessel while it sailed overnight on the Rhine, damaging windows in the Waterside Lounge and in some suites. 

No guests were injured in either of the Viking collisions or the Crystal accident.

This report was updated at 7 p.m. Eastern time on Sunday.


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