Uniworld Files Lawsuit Against MSC Cruises for Accident

The MSC Magnifica cruise ship passes by the tourist boat, foreground, bottom right, that was struck by a towering cruiser, foreground right, in Venice, Italy.
The River Countess following its collision with the MSC Opera. (The MSC Magnifica is in the background.) // Photo by AP Photo/Luca Bruno via Newscred

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection has filed a lawsuit against MSC Cruise Management (UK). The river line is seeking 11.5 million Euros (or about $12.7 million dollars in today's currency) as reimbursement for damages incurred after the June 2, 2019 accident in which Uniworld's River Countess was hit by the much larger MSC Opera.

At the time of the accident, River Countess was docked at the San Basilio Cruise Terminal in Venice, Italy. MSC Cruises later said a technical issue occurred while the 2,150-passenger oceangoing ship was being accompanied by two tugboats to the dock. 

At least four Uniworld guests were injured in the crash and the river vessel had extensive damage.

As Travel Agent reported at the time, Uniworld immediately cancelled six River Countess sailings following the accident while MSC Cruises also initially cancelled one sailing of MSC Opera while the investigation was under way. 

However, the highly damaged Uniworld vessel needed extensive repairs, so more voyages were also cancelled and the vessel did not return to service until September 8, 2019.

Unproductive Conversations, Says Uniworld 

In a public statement released Wednesday to the media, Ellen Bettridge, Uniworld's CEO and president, said that extensive conversations with MSC to compensate Uniworld for its losses have been unproductive. 

“We are extremely disappointed with the unprofessional manner in which MSC has decided to ignore the gravity of the situation, which has disrupted our guests, our partners and our team,” said Bettridge. “Aside from the severe damage to our ship [River Countess], we were forced to cancel 14 voyages, frustrating our guests and travel partners during the peak summer season.”

To date, Uniworld estimates its losses that include passenger reimbursement, ship damage, lost revenue and the protection of travel agent commissions to be in excess of 11.5 million Euros. Checking currency conversion rates at press time, Travel Agent found that equates to approximately $12.7 million dollars. 

Uniworld also said that estimate excludes additional potential claims from customers and related damages.

Uniworld also said the following in its statement: “We do not like to litigate but have been compelled to do so based on the stonewalling and delays by MSC and its representatives – even after receiving a letter of guarantee by their own insurance agency, West of England. 

"We expect more and better from a fellow member of the cruise industry and regret having to go to court to seek fitting remedy,” said Bettridge.

The incident still remains under investigation by Italian authorities. Uniworld said the situation impacted nearly 1,600 guests over the course of several months. 

The Uniworld statement continued: “Uniworld is part of The Travel Corporation which celebrates a century of travel excellence this year. The company prides itself on delivering service which exceeds our customers’ expectations and that is put to the test most not when things go right, but when things go wrong. We are holding MSC to that standard. 

"This situation has been incredibly distressing, particularly for those guests and crew who experienced the traumatic moment onboard first-hand and those who watched the terrifying videos in the days to follow; we wish for nothing more than to put this behind us. It’s time for them to come to the table and make us whole,” according to Bettridge.

"MSC Cruises has been working constructively with all parties and their legal advisors since shortly after the incident, and has been facilitating a close cooperation between those involved including their insurers," a spokesperson for MSC Cruises tells Travel Agent. "As liability in this matter is still under investigation by the responsible authorities it is inappropriate to comment further at this stage. MSC Cruises is committed to continuing to cooperate fully in order to resolve this matter."

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