Incident in Venice – Loss of engine control of a cruise ship

Posted on June 4, 2019 12:34 AM by

Harry valentine

People at the port of Venice were horrified to witness the cruise ship MSC Opera sailing to and colliding with a small cruise ship and dock. Unlike a sudden engine shutdown, some reports suggest the engine was “stuck” and thrust was still fully operational, causing the vessel to accelerate. If this is indeed the case, the presence and operation of the emergency engine shutdown system becomes an area of ​​interest.


The smallest of modern motor ships involves a propeller powered by an outboard motor with a tiller tiller providing directional control. Ship designers in China were the first to install rudders on the stern of large ships, with a remotely placed steering wheel connected to the rudder by a series of hemp ropes and pulleys. When the engines were first introduced in ships, the engine room kept the engines running under the direction of the bridge. State-of-the-art technology transferred control of the engines and rudders directly to the bridge, using advanced remote control technology that until now worked reliably.

The “blocked” engine event on board the MSC Opera at the port of Venice now raises questions about the reliability of the remote control technology that connects the ship’s deck to the engine. In the history of the transportation industry, some passenger vehicles have included built-in redundancy, such as multiple-circuit braking systems that allow continuous braking capability despite a failure or malfunction of one of the transmission circuits. braking. During the “blocked” engine incident, navigation control remained operational on board the vessel. MSC Opera. So we ask if there has been a “blockage” between the axle and the throttle control of the engine?

Broken tow cables

Several years ago, an incident occurred off the coast of Florida involving a cruise ship in distress. The tow rope attached between the bow of the vessel and the rescue tug broke. During the “blocked” engine incident in Venice, a cable connecting the MSC Opera and it is believed that one of the tugs broke as the tugs attempted to slow the vessel down. Perhaps the only question that could be asked about the Venice incident is whether a stronger cable would have withstood the tension load caused by the “stuck” motor and reduced subsequent damage.

The learning curve

A US airline misadventure investigator recently said that virtually all advancements in airline safety resulted from a previous incident, some of which were catastrophic. In the history of commercial transportation, incidents have occurred involving the throttle control on diesel engines in automobiles, where the shutdown could not be activated and the engines started to run until they were destroyed. Some commercial diesel engines have featured some form of emergency shutdown mechanism. So in the case of MSC Opera, questions will likely be raised about the operation of an emergency engine shutdown system.

Several weeks ago off the coast of Norway, the cruise ship named Viking Sky suffered an engine shutdown during rough sea conditions. While the occurrence of a sudden engine shutdown is certainly problematic, the ability to quickly switch to alternative emergency propulsion and navigation becomes essential. The Venice incident illustrates the implications of a sudden loss of engine throttle control and the need for a quick engine shutdown control, with alternative technology available to provide emergency navigation and propulsion to short term.

Towing in barge mode

The Venice incident involved tugs navigating a vessel whose engine was still running and supplied both the propulsion and navigation of the vessel. However, tug crews have the ability to propel and navigate large vessels in confined areas at times when vessel propulsion and navigation is not operational. In such events, the ship is the essential equivalent of a very large non-motorized barge. The main downside is that shipping companies have to pay tug companies for their services. Cruise ships fitted with electrically powered steerable propellers have a proven track record of negotiating tight turns along narrow canals.

Battery-electric option

A steerable propeller cruise ship capable of switching from diesel-electric to battery-electric propulsion in narrow channels, with the diesel engines disengaged, would likely be able to avoid the loss of engine control incident. “Blocked” that occurred in Venice. A simple push of a switch could quickly turn off the power supply if the electrical relay was in optimal operating condition. In the future, ports such as Venice that have narrow navigable canals may require cruise lines to include technology on board their ships that would provide greater navigational safety when negotiating in narrow canals.

At one point, only ships with the appropriate technology might be allowed to pass through narrow but scenic canals in ports such as Venice. The operators of these vessels would likely attract market share, as their vessels could access locations that might otherwise become closed to vessels not equipped with the required navigation and propulsion technology. Ports that begin to apply restrictions on cruise ship exhaust emissions would likely become destinations and ports of call for ships equipped with short range battery electric propulsion. Some cruise ship companies might have a business case for including this propulsion option in their ships.


The Venice incident involving the MSC Opera could require cruise ships to include an emergency engine shutdown system combined with short range alternative propulsion technology such as battery electric technology that could be activated almost immediately after an unexpected engine shutdown or activated by the crew.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.

Kevin A. Perras

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