A Venezuelan navy gunboat has picked a fight with a cruise ship, and lost.

RCGS Resolute was undergoing maintenance in international waters in the south Caribbean when the incident took place, on Wednesday morning. The ship was carrying only 32 crew and no passengers at the time.

According to a statement by owners Columbia CS, shortly after midnight, the ship was "approached by an armed Venezuelan navy vessel" which challenged the Resolute and ordered it to sail into the Venezuelan port on Isla De Margarita.

The cruise ship refused, maintaining it was in international waters.

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While the ships Master was trying to contact the German company's head office, warning shots were overheard and the gunboat set course to ram the cruise ship.

"The navy vessel continued to ram the starboard bow in an apparent attempt to turn the ship's head towards Venezuelan territorial waters," read the Resolute's account.

However this was a big mistake for the over-zealous Venezuelans.

"While the RCGS Resolute sustained minor damages, not affecting vessel's seaworthiness, it occurs that the navy vessel suffered severe damages while making contact with the ice-strengthened bulbous bow of the ice-class expedition cruise vessel RCGS Resolute and started to take water," said Columbia CS.

In a statement the Venezuelan coastguard acknowledged the incident and the outcome, blaming the Portuguese flagged vessel for causing "damage of great magnitude" and "anxiety of the aforementioned coastguard".

The navy deemed the Resolute's action "cowardly and criminal" for not offering rescue to the scuppered sailors, as was their duty by maritime law.

Columbia denied this accusation, saying the ship remained in the water for "over an hour" radioing help from the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre on the nearby Caribbean island of Curaçao. Attempts to correspond with the sinking navy vessel, Resolute claims, were refused.

The Resolute moored safely in the port of Willemstad, sustaining only minor damages.

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All Venezuelan sailors were rescue by navy support vessels. The Venezuelan state says it will be taking legal action against the cruise liner.