A towering, out-of-control cruise ship has rammed into a dock and a tourist riverboat on a busy Venice canal, injuring a New Zealander.

The Kiwi - believed to be a woman - was one of five people injured when the MSC Opera cruise ship rammed into the River Countess on the Giudecca Canal - a major thoroughfare that leads to St Mark's Square in the northeastern Italian city.

Videos of the crash show the cruise ship, apparently unable to halt its momentum, blaring its horn as it ploughs into the much smaller riverboat and the dock as dozens of people run away in panic.

Venice is a popular site for tourists and cruise ships, especially during the summer tourist season.

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Following the collision, Italian medical authorities said four of the people injured were women — an American, a New Zealander and two Australians between the ages of 67 and 72.

They were reportedly hurt as they fell or tried to run away when the cruise ship rammed into the River Countess.

The New Zealand Embassy in Rome is providing consular assistance to the Kiwi but said no further information would be provided for privacy reasons.

Italian media reported that at least five people were injured in the crash. Photo / AP
Italian media reported that at least five people were injured in the crash. Photo / AP

The cruise ship's owner, MSC Cruises, said the ship, the MSC Opera, was about to dock at a passenger terminal in Venice when it had a mechanical problem.

Two towboats guiding the ship tried to stop it but they were unable to prevent it from ramming into the riverboat.

"The two towboats tried to stop the giant and then a tow cable broke, cut by the collision with the river boat," Davide Calderan, president of a towboat association in Venice, told the Italian news agency ANSA.

Calderan said the cruise ship's engine was locked when the captain called for help.

Following the accident, calls for banning cruise ships in Venice, long a source of contention in the over-extended tourist city, were renewed.

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The MSC Opera was built in 2004. It can carry over 2675 passengers in 1,071 cabins. According to its sailing schedule, the cruise ship left Venice on May 26 and travelled to Kotor, Montenegro, and Mykonos, Santorini and Corfu in Greece before returning Sunday to Venice.

- AP