Genoa bridge collapse: 59 people to stand trial over disaster as operator settles

An Italian judge on Thursday ordered 59 people to stand trial over the 2018 collapse of the Morandi bridge in Genoa and companies to pay 29 million euros to the Italian state.

Genoa bridge collapse: 59 people to stand trial over disaster as operator settles
A photo taken on August 15, 2018, shows abandoned vehicles on Genoa’s now-destroyed Morandi motorway bridge the day after a section collapsed, killing 43. Photo by Valery HACHE / AFP.

The order came as the court also approved an almost 30-million euro settlement between the companies Autostrade per l’Italia and Spea.

The bridge’s collapse killed 43 people and shed a spotlight on Italy’s decaying infrastructure – as well as the role of Autostrade (ASPI), the private motorway operator accused of failing to maintain the major viaduct.

Judge Paola Faggioni ruled that the operator, and engineering company Spea – both subsidiaries of Italian infrastructure group Atlantia, which is controlled by the Benetton family – must pay the state 29 million euros ($31.7 million).

“It’s good news, as the request to settle is like an admission of guilt,” Egle Possetti, a spokeswoman for a victims’ relatives group, told AFP.

“But it’s also sad, because it’s money that could have been spent on maintenance to prevent the collapse in the first place,” said Possetti, whose sister died along with her husband and their two children when their car plummeted 45 metres (148 feet) in August 2018.

The top photo, taken on August 15, 2018, shows the Morandi motorway bridge in Genoa after the collapse. The bottom photo shows Genoa’s new San Giorgio bridge during its inauguration on August 3, 2020. Photos by Piero CRUCIATTI and Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Faggioni ruled in favour of the prosecution’s request for 59 people to stand trial, including the former head of Atlantia, Giovanni Castelluci, and officials from Spea, which was in charge of inspections on the bridge.

The list also includes several transport ministry officials.

The first hearing is scheduled for July 7th, with charges including manslaughter, negligence and wilful disaster.

In their final report on the investigation into the disaster, published last year, prosecutors highlighted “incomplete” and “inadequate” inspections, according to news reports.

They noted, for example, that the bridge piers were inspected from below, using binoculars, rather than from up close.

In a statement agreeing to the settlement with Autostrade, the prosecution said the amount “corresponds to the cost savings made by the company through the omission of maintenance that would have prevented” the disaster, according to Genoa’s Il Secolo XIX newspaper.

Autostrade has also “executed, or in any event made available, full compensation for all the damages caused to the relatives of the victims”, it said.

The Morandi highway, hailed a marvel of engineering when it opened in 1967, gave way during heavy rain.

The wealthy Benetton family came under immense pressure after the disaster to relinquish control of Autostrade, which runs almost half of Italy’s motorway network.

Atlantia agreed last year to sell its controlling stake in Autostrade to a consortium including the state lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP), as well as investment funds Blackstone and Macquarie.

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Italy to spend billions on highways after Genoa disaster

Italy will invest some 13.6 billion euros on a multi-year plan to upgrade the safety of its highways after the 2018 Genoa bridge disaster, the transport ministry said on Friday.

Vehicles drive across the new San Giorgio bridge in Genoa, following its reopening for traffic
Vehicles drive across the new San Giorgio bridge in Genoa, following its reopening for traffic in August 2020. It was built after the deadly collapse of a viaduct in 2018. (Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP)

Motorway operator ASPI, which is moving into public hands, will foot the entire bill after signing a deal with the ministry, a ministry spokeswoman told AFP.

The deal covers a period until 2038, but 2.5 billion euros are earmarked for urgent maintenance work to be completed by 2024, and another 1.2 billion euros for projects in and around Genoa.

ASPI, which stands for Autostrade per l’Italia, previously agreed to also pay 3.4 billion euros in compensation related to the bridge disaster in the northwestern port city.

Three years ago, Italy was stunned by the collapse of the Morandi bridge in Genoa, a tragedy that killed 43 people and highlighted the decaying state of national infrastructure.

It also exposed ASPI, which at the time was privately owned, to accusations that it skimped on maintenance of the bridge to maximise its profits.

A pre-trial judge is looking at various charges, including manslaughter and negligence, against 59 people investigated for the disaster, including ASPI’s former bosses.

READ ALSO: Italian police arrest six in connection with Genoa bridge collapse

At a hearing Friday, the transport ministry and the office of Prime Minister Mario Draghi joined the proceedings with a civil suit for damages, the ministry said in a statement.

ASPI used to be controlled by the Benetton family, also known for their clothing brand. After the collapse, they came under strong pressure to leave the highways business.

In June, the family’s Atlantia holding company agreed to sell its 88-percent stake in ASPI to a consortium led by Italian state investment bank CDP.

The deal is expected to be finalised over the coming months.