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GENOA

Italy prepares day of mourning for bridge victims

Italy was preparing an official day of mourning on Saturday to commemorate the dozens of people killed in Genoa's bridge disaster with some outraged relatives of victims set to shun the official ceremonies.

Italy prepares day of mourning for bridge victims
The families of 17 victims have refused to take part. Photo: Marco Bertorelli / AFP
The populist government has blamed the operator of the viaduct for Tuesday's collapse that killed at least 38 people in the northern Italian city and threatened to strip the firm of its contracts.
 
Authorities have planned a state funeral service on Saturday at a hall in Genoa, coinciding with a day of mourning.
 
Adorned with flowers and photographs, 18 coffins — including a small white one for the youngest eight-year-old victim who died alongside his parents — lined an exhibition centre transformed into a chapel on Saturday morning, according to an AFP reporter.
   
Firefighters were applauded as they entered the hall ahead of the ceremony, due to begin at 11:30 am. 
 
But more than half of the families of the victims have refused to take part, some preferring a more intimate funeral while others announced a boycott.  
 
According to La Stampa newspaper, the families of 17 victims have refused to take part, while a further seven have yet to decide whether they will attend.
   
“It is the state who has provoked this; let them not show their faces, the parade of politicians is shameful,” the press cited the mother of one of four young Italians from Naples who died.
   
Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte are due to preside over the state funeral.
   
The father of another of the dead from Naples took to social media to vent his anger.
   
“My son will not become a number in the catalogue of deaths caused by Italian failures,” said his grieving father, Roberto. “We do not want a farce of a funeral but a ceremony at home.”
   
The government has accused infrastructure giant Autostrade per L'Italia of failing to invest in sufficient maintenance and said it would seek to revoke its lucrative contracts.
   
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini demanded that the company offer up to 500 million euros ($570 million) to help families and local government deal with the aftermath of the disaster.
 
The service came as firefighters still searching for five missing people discovered a car with human remains inside.    
 
The Civil Protection authorities did not comment on the number of victims but local media reported a family of three were discovered, including a nine-year-old girl, adding to the death toll of 38.   
 
The dead include other children, one as young as eight, and three Chileans and four French nationals.
 
State of emergency
 
The Morandi viaduct dates from the 1960s and has been riddled with structural problems for decades, leading to expensive maintenance and severe criticism from engineering experts.
   
Its collapse prompted fears over ageing infrastructure across the world. Italy has announced a year-long state of emergency in the region. Autostrade, which operates and maintains nearly half of Italy's motorways, estimates it will take five months to rebuild the bridge.
   
It denies scrimping on motorway maintenance, saying it has invested over one billion euros a year in “safety, maintenance and strengthening of the network” since 2012.
   
Atlantia, the holding company of Autostrade which is 30 percent owned by iconic fashion brand Benetton, has warned that the government would have to refund the value of the contract, which runs until at least 2038.
   
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Autostrade “had the duty and obligation to assure the maintenance of this viaduct and the security of all those who travelled on it.”

TRAVEL

First cruise ship sets sail from Italy since coronavirus shutdown

The first major cruise ship to resume tours of the Mediterranean since the coronavirus pandemic hit Europe set sail from the Italian city of Genoa on Sunday, as the industry tries to regain ground after a bruising hiatus.

First cruise ship sets sail from Italy since coronavirus shutdown
A photographer watches the MSC Grandiosa depart on Sunday August 16th, 2020, after more than six months of inactivity. Photo: AFP

The departure of the MSC Grandiosa from the northwestern port city at 1930 local time represents a high-stakes test for the global sector in the key Mediterranean market and beyond.

The international cruise industry has been battered not only by the ongoing health crisis which in March forced the worldwide grounding of its ships, but accusations of a botched handling of the epidemic in its early stages.

Cruise lines are hoping that new, tighter protocols will allow them to control the still-lingering threat of coronavirus aboard its ships while still offering travellers a cruise experience that does not disappoint.

Arriving passengers preparing to check in before taking a required coronavirus blood test inside the terminal told AFP they were not concerned about the virus. Some said they believed cruises were now safer than other vacation options.

“I couldn't miss the first cruise after Covid,” cruise blogger Rosalba Scarrone, 64, told AFP.

READ ALSO: Venice anti-cruise ship activists cheer temporary victory as liners pull out

“I've taken 87 cruises, can you imagine how much I've suffered not setting off from February until now?”

The Grandiosa is part of the fleet of privately-owned MSC Cruises, founded in Naples but now based in Geneva. The ship will travel to the ports of Civitavecchia near Rome, Naples, Palermo and Valletta, Malta during the seven-day cruise.

Competitor Costa Cruises, owned by Carnival, has opted to delay the restart of its Mediterranean cruises until September, with departures from Trieste and Genoa for Italian-only clients. The company said the measure was designed to “guarantee the maximum security for guests, crew and local communities.”

Fewer passengers

Much is riding on the decision to restart cruises. Italy represents the bulk of Europe's cruise industry, reaping 14.5 billion euros of revenue per year and supporting nearly 53,000 jobs, according to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).

The group estimated a potential economic loss from suspended cruises throughout Europe could amount to about 25.5 billion euros.

“The voyage … represents a tangible sign of comeback for one of the fundamental economic industries of our city,” said Genoa Mayor Marco Bucci.

Over 2 million cruise passengers departed from the city last year.

Last week, Italy's government, which is striving to revive the country's moribund economy after a more than two-month lockdown, gave cruise operators the green light to begin operating again as of August 15. 

MSC authorities said approximately 2,500 passengers would be on its debut cruise, limited to about 70 percent of normal capacity.

All eyes in the industry will be on the Grandiosa after a smaller cruise operator, Norway's Hurtigruten, was forced earlier this month to suspend its newly restarted service after dozens of passengers and crew tested positive for COVID-19.

Global health authorities criticised the industry's slow response to the spread of the virus at the onset of the crisis earlier this year before ships were grounded in March, from lax monitoring of crew, to continued operation of self-service buffets and gyms, to lack of personal protective equipment.

Buffet is served

As of June 11, 3,047 people were infected and 73 people died aboard 48 cruise ships affiliated with trade group Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), according to Johns Hopkins University data, provided by CLIA.

Health authorities say close living and working spaces for crew, along with partially enclosed environments contributed to greater risk of infection on cruises than other venues.

MSC has suspended the rest of its Mediterranean cruises until October save for an August 29 cruise departing from the southern Italian port of Bari.

The company said its new security protocol exceeds national and industry standards, including daily temperatures taken and escorted trips in controlled groups for excursions.

Food from the buffet, a highlight of the cruise experience, will be served at passengers' tables.

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