A Hamilton woman has spoken of the moment her European holiday nearly turned to tragedy when the riverboat she and her husband were on in Venice was struck by a 66,000-tonne cruise ship.

Joy Milmine suffered a broken shoulder and now has several screws holding her busted joint together, but is grateful nobody died in the terrifying June 2 crash.

Milmine and her husband Colin, both in their early 70s, cut short a planned two-month holiday after the freak collision which was allegedly caused by engine failure.

In her first interview since returning home, Milmine recalled how they had been enjoying breakfast aboard the moored boat when a horn blared that sent bystanders running for their lives.


"When I looked out the window to see what was happening, all I could see was people running down the dock, really running and looking behind them," Milmine said.

"All of a sudden there was one almighty bang.

"Everything fell over. Table, chairs, food - everything."

The out-of-control cruise ship MSC Opera had slammed into the much smaller River Countess riverboat.

The riverboat had been docked on the Giudecca Canal which is a busy thoroughfare to St Mark's Square.

"As we were collecting our thoughts there was another almighty bang, bigger than the first one," Milmine said.

The MSC Opera had pushed the much smaller boat away from the wharf entirely, leaving it bobbing in water as rescue personnel rushed to help.

"We were just pushed like a feather virtually."

Damage caused to the tourist riverboat when it was struck by the MSC Opera in Venice. Photo / AP
Damage caused to the tourist riverboat when it was struck by the MSC Opera in Venice. Photo / AP

Milmine toppled to the ground, falling on her right side.

Her husband was also thrown to the ground, hitting the back of his head and injuring his leg.

"Walking through the dining room was just chaos, there was stuff all over the place," Milmine said.

Staff rushed to help the couple and Milmine's broken shoulder was temporarily braced before they were offloaded onto a boat ambulance.

"We were half lifted from one boat to the other, bobbing in the sea. That was extremely painful."

The reality was starting to set in that her shoulder was broken as they began to navigate their way through the winding canals of Venice to a hospital.

The couple were shepherded along the way by an interpreter who worked for the riverboat.

"We would have been totally lost without her. It's not just a matter of ringing up and hailing a taxi as you or I would do."

Milmine said they were both lucky to have escaped without suffering more serious injuries.

"Our injuries are minor to what could have happened," she said.

"Looking back on it, it was quite surreal."

Milmine underwent surgery successfully in Venice on her broken shoulder and was checked out at a New Zealand hospital on Thursday.

An x-ray of Joy Milmine's shoulder held together by screws and a large steel rod. Photo / Supplied
An x-ray of Joy Milmine's shoulder held together by screws and a large steel rod. Photo / Supplied

She said the crash had also been an emotional ordeal for her daughter Bronwyn Hutching, who was surprised to learn it was her parents who had been caught up in the crash.

"I actually missed her phone call. But it was a shock to find it was mum involved in it, it definitely was," Hutching earlier told the Herald.

"It's pretty traumatic for everyone."

The Milmines cut their travels short, missing a much-anticipated trip to Croatia.

"That was going to be one of the real great highlights," Milmine said.

They had done a lot of research and were really looking forward to the trip.

The couple had also hoped to spend time in London undertaking some family genealogy research.

"We won't be going anywhere anytime soon," Milmine said.

For now they remained focused on her recovery.

What went wrong aboard the 13-deck cruise ship is still under investigation, according to international media.

However the local mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, is calling for an end to cruise ships negotiating the lagoon city.