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The Genoa bridge disaster: six months on

Experts begin the delicate task of taking apart Genoa's Morandi motorway bridge this morning, almost six months after its partial collapse during a storm killed 43 people and injured dozens.

The Genoa bridge disaster: six months on
The the remains of the Morandi bridge. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

Thousands of tonnes of steel, concrete and asphalt have already been removed from the spectacularly truncated high-rise bridge in the northern Italian port city to make it lighter before the “deconstruction” operation begins.

Four powerful strand-jacks positioned on the bridge by an enormous crane will unhook and slowly lower a 36 by 18 metre (118 by 59 foot) concrete slab weighing over 900 tonnes this morning.

The jacks are the same as those used to right the Costa Concordia cruise liner off Tuscany in 2013, after it ran aground and capsized with the loss of 32 lives.

The operation to lower the vast slab around 48 metres to the ground is expected to take eight hours, with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to attend the start.

Technicians set up material and work on the western section of the remains of the Morandi bridge on February 7. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

It was initially hoped that the bridge could be demolished by the end of September. Investigators have been calling for the urgent demolition of the bridge's remains since August, warning that supports were weakening and at risk of collapse.

The symbolic operation will help the city move on from the August disaster, which beyond the human cost also ripped out one of the city's main transport arteries.

Italy's most famous living architect Renzo Piano, a Genoa native, has provided the design for the replacement bridge that “will last for 1,000 years”.

The new structure will look deliberately different from the old one, opened in 1967, and will feature 43 lamp poles in memory of those killed when a section collapsed during a storm on August 14, sending dozens of vehicles andtonnes of concrete tumbling to the ground.

The new bridge commission, headed by Genoa Mayor Marco Bucci, noted the new design “rests on pillars, respecting the feeling of psychological aversion in the city (to) other types of bridge with suspended or cable-stayed parts”.

It will “have elements of a boat because that is something from Genoa,” Piano has said, describing a streamlined and luminous white structure.

The new bridge is estimated to cost 202 million euros, making it one of the most expensive in Europe.
It is expected to be open to traffic by April 2020, junior transport minister Edoardo Rizi said on Thursday, with the demolition to take 190 days.

The old cable-stayed bridge was made from reinforced concrete, with the steel cables linking the bridge's towers also covered in concrete.

Technicians prepare to work on the remains of the Morandi bridge late on the night on February 7 Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

One theory investigators are looking into is that the steel within the concrete had dangerously decayed, although this would not have been visible.

There have also been allegations of poor maintenance, poor design and questionable building practices.

Explosives will be used to demolish the bridge from around February 20, Genoa's Repubblica newspaper reported.

The eastern side of the bridge, where the structure gave way, still needs to be examined by experts and prosectors.

Autostrade per l'Italia (Aspi) operated the failed bridge and several of its managers could face trial over the collapse.

Ahead of anticipated court proceedings, Aspi is still negotiating compensation payments with bereaved relatives, reportedly for a total of 50 million euros.

For the first time in an Italian public works contract, the construction companies face stiff penalties of up to 202,000 euros a day for any delays.

Civil engineering expert Pierre Corfdir said planning the demolition of a bridge this size (over 1,180 metres) would normally take around three years.

“This is one of the most complex bridge demolitions,” because of the built-up environment, said Corfdir, who works at France's Cerema institute.

“There's also time pressure: they have to rebuild a bridge that is of vital importance to the city's economy.”

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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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