Sixteen months after the sinking of the Costa Concordia cruise ship, which killed 32 people, Italy has been hit by another shipping disaster.

A container ship struck the dock in the Northern port of Genoa, on the Thyrrenian Sea, on Tuesday night, killing seven and injuring four. Two of the dead were Coast Guard officers and a third was a pilot for the port, the Coast Guard said. Several others are still missing, according to local authorities.     

The Jolly Nero, a 239-meter (785-foot) -long container ship, was maneuvering to leave the port when its stern struck the tower housing the local Coast Guard facilities. The 54-meter (180-foot) tower crumbled immediately, according to eyewitness accounts.  

Genoa Port Disaster 3 A Coast Guard vessel near the collapsed tower during rescue attempts in the port of Genoa Photo: REUTERS / Alessandro Garofalo

According to an account in Italian newspaper La Repubblica, the 40,000-metric-ton ship was maneuvering to leave the port stern-first and hit the dock while turning around to face the open sea with its bow.

Authorities in Genoa have opened an investigation. A possible malfunction may have caused the accident, according to La Repubblica.

“This is a terrible tragedy we can’t explain at this time,” Luigi Merlo, the president of Genoa’s Port Authority, which manages Italy’s largest port by cargo traffic.

“It was a perfect evening. The sea was calm, there was no wind,” Merlo said, adding that “the maneuver should not have taken place in that area.”   

Genoa Port Disaster 5 Rescuers amid the rubble of the port of Genoa's control tower Photo: REUTERS / Alessandro Garofalo

Genoa Port Disaster 1 A part of the collapsed control tower at Genoa's port on May 8, 2013 Photo: REUTERS / Alessandro Garofalo

Local prosecutors in Genoa put under investigation the ship’s captain, 63-year-old Roberto Paoloni, who is now being held by police. It also opened a separate multiple manslaughter inquiry “against unknowns,” a term used in Italian law to indicate that no one has been charged yet.   

The local edition of the Corriere della Sera newspaper reported that the Jolly Nero was bound for Naples and other Mediterranean ports. The ship, built in 1976, was owned by Messina, an Italian shipping company.

“We are more than devastated,” managing director Stefano Messina was quoted by Corriere as saying. “Nothing like this had happened before.”  

Like Giglio Island, where the Costa Concordia sank on January 12, 2012, Genoa is on the Thyrrenian Sea, on Italy's west coast. The cruise ship struck a rock while passing very close to the shore, and sank partially; it is still there more than one year after the accident, waiting for a costly, complex salvage operation that is being hindered by technical difficulties.

In the confusion that followed the 2012 accident, Captain Francesco Schettino abandoned ship amid a poorly organized, chaotic evacuation of the giant vessel. His dereliction of duty became an international story and a huge embarassment for Italy, a country with a proud, centuries-long maritime tradition.

Schettino is now under house arrest, and facing trial on multiple charges including causing a shipwreck and 32 counts of manslaughter.