Uniworld to receive €2.4m payout from MSC for Venice crash

Compensation settlement could rise to €7.5m including non-physical losses

MSC Cruises has agreed to pay Uniworld Boutique River Cruises €2.4m (AU$3.7m) plus interest, for damages caused when MSC Opera ploughed into River Countess in Venice, Italy in June 2019.

At the time of the accident there were 28 passengers aboard the Uniworld ship who were in the process of disembarking at the San Basilio Pier in the Giudecca Canal. None of those passengers sustained serious injury.

The crash did however crush the hull of River Countess, putting the river cruiser out of action for three months and causing the cancellation of 14 scheduled cruises. The repair bill alone cost Uniworld over €3 million (AU$4.7m).

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection's River Countess, after being struck by MSC Opera on 2 June 2019 in Venice | Image credit: AP Photo/Luca Bruno

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In March 2020, MSC Cruises admitted fully liability for the collision, however the company argued that the substantial loss of earnings for the cancelled cruises was not recoverable under Italian law.

Earlier this month, the High Court of England and Wales also ordered MSC to provide compensation for non-physical losses (i.e lost net revenues, lost onboard sales, brand damage and/or injury to goodwill, management time and overheads spent in handling the consequences of the collision).

But Uniworld, represented by UK law firm Devonshires, successfully argued 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, in addition to paying compensation, hospital bills and repatriation costs for injured passengers.

The High Court agreed, ordering MSC Cruise Management Limited to compensate Uniworld for non-physical losses, which could take the total payout to a total of €7.5m ($AU11.7m)

The fully refurbished River Countess, now operating as S.S. La Venezia

Ellen Bettridge, President and CEO of 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.”

Panini Bar, S.S. La Venezia

In August 2019, two months after the MSC Opera and River Countess collision, the Italian Government said it would reroute ocean cruise liners away from the historic city, leading to a full ban on ocean cruise liners in Venice, introduced on 1 August 2021.

A spokesperson for MSC said: “MSC welcomes the judgement of the Court this week in London that confirms and makes effective what the Company had already volunteered to pay – and, in part, has already paid – for the vessel’s repair costs. For additional losses, MSC has from the very beginning made itself available to cover any demonstrated amounts in connection with this very unfortunate accident.”

Twelve months ago, River Countess re-emerged in the Uniworld fleet as Super Ship (S.S.) La Venezia – an upgrade and enhancement to the vessel that had been planned prior to the accident.

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