Posts Tagged ‘Italy’

Fresh controversy as Italy bans another migrant ship

August 19, 2018

Italy’s populist government has taken a hard line on immigration. In the latest controversy, its transport minister said that although the coast guard had partially aided a migrant ship to save lives, Malta still deserved sanctions for not helping.

© Alberto Pizzoli / AFP, archives | Migrants and refugees, wait to be rescued at sea and transported to the German navy frigate ship Werra, a part of the European external action service Eunavfor-med, on September 27, 2015.

Italian Government Refuses Bridge Collapse Payment from Autostrade — “We demand credible redress and there will be no bartering.”

August 19, 2018

Rome dismisses operator’s €500m Genoa bridge recovery offer
Autostrade says collapsed Morandi  viaduct in Genoa can be replaced within eight months

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The collapse of the  viaduct led to recriminations from government figures against Autostrade, the road operator charged with maintaining the motorway © Getty

Hannah Roberts in Rome

Italy’s coalition government has rejected an initial offer of €500m from Italy’s biggest motorway operator Autostrade per l’Italia for building work and compensation after the collapse of a motorway bridge in Genoa killing 43 people.

Matteo Salvini, deputy prime minister and leader of the far right League, called it “a minimum wage offer”. Luigi Di Maio, leader of the Five Star Movement and the other deputy prime minister, said the state would not accept “charity” from Autostrade.

“We demand credible redress and there will be no bartering,” Mr Di Maio said.

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Collapsed Morandi bridge in Genoa.  AP

Last week’s collapse of the Morandi viaduct led to recriminations from government figures against Autostrade, the road operator charged with maintaining the motorway, and the Benetton family, which owns more than 30 per cent of Autostrade’s parent company Atlantia. Shares in Atlantia fell more than 20 per cent after Rome threatened to revoke Autostrade’s licence.

After a state funeral on Saturday for some of the victims of the collapse Giovanni Castellucci, Autostrade’s chief executive, said the company had established a fund for the “immediate needs of the victims, to be administered by the municipality”, and a compensation fund for all those who had lost their houses.

While expressing “profound sadness”, Mr Castellucci did not take responsibility for the accident on behalf of Autostrade. He pointed out that the bridge was built in the 1960s, by another entity, and said an “in-depth investigation” was needed to establish fault.

The bridge could be rebuilt in steel within eight months, Mr Castelluci said. He said the initial costs for structural work and compensation would quickly reach €500m.

Autostrade’s board of directors is to meet in Rome on Tuesday and Atlantia’s board will meet on Wednesday, a spokesman for Atlantia said.

The government formally began the process to revoke the licence from Autostrade on Friday, despite warnings that it could have to pay the company €15bn and €20bn to recompense its loss of earnings over the remainder of its concession — which has two decades to run — unless the company was found to be at clear fault.

Transport minister Danilo Toninelli, also of Five Star, wrote on Facebook that the ministry had sent a letter to the company, giving it 15 days from Friday to submit proof of steps taken to ensure safety and maintenance and formally warning them of the government’s intention to take the licence away.

The ministry has also commissioned a report on the state of health of the country’s roads, highways and dams to be finished by September 1.

The government has announced €33m funding to manage the state of emergency, which Giuseppe Conte, prime minister said was for “urgent works” to make the road network and transport system viable, and to find accommodation for the 600 people made homeless by the collapse.

The viaduct gave way on Tuesday during heavy rain and part of its structure fell 45m into a river valley.

Authorities at the weekend revised the death toll from the collapse to 43 after reaching the end of the search operation in the remnants of the bridge.

Italian bridge company under fire as rescuers toil for third day — It was “a tragedy waiting to happen”

August 16, 2018

Italy’s populist government was on a war footing Thursday with the Italian operator of the bridge that collapsed and killed dozens in the port city of Genoa as desperate efforts to find survivors in the rubble went into a third day.

Shares in Atlantia, the holding company of infrastructure giant Autostrade per L’Italia, plummeted after the government said it would seek to revoke its lucrative contracts.

© Vigili del Fuoco/AFP | Conte said Wednesday that his government would seek to revoke the company’s contract for the A10 motorway, which includes the bridge, while Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli said the company should be fined up to 150 million euros ($170 million)

On the ground, rescue workers toiled among bulldozers and cranes to find survivors amid the ruins of a vast span of the Morandi bridge that collapsed on Tuesday, sending about 35 cars and several trucks plunging 45 metres (150 feet) onto railway tracks below.

“We were unlucky last night, we did not find anyone. We are still looking for cavities that can hide people, living or not,” said fire official Emanuele Gissi, adding that the unstable rubble has made the search operation “dangerous”.

“We are trying to cut the big pieces of concrete that fell off the bridge, after which we will move them with the cranes and send in search dogs. Then our personnel will try to see if there are any positive signs.”

The government has blamed Autostrade per l’Italia, which operates and maintains nearly half of the country’s motorways, for the tragedy that Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Thursday has claimed at least 38 lives.

Children aged eight, 12 and 13 were among the dead, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said Wednesday, adding that more people were still missing. Sixteen people were injured.

Three Chileans, who live in Italy, and four French nationals were also killed.

The government has announced a year-long state of emergency in the region, with five million euros going towards recovery work.

Conte said Wednesday that his government would seek to revoke the company’s contract for the A10 motorway, which includes the bridge, while Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli said the company should be fined up to 150 million euros ($170 million).

The government, in power only since June, claims that Autostrade failed to carry out necessary maintenance of the bridge, which has also drawn fire from engineering experts.

A transport ministry spokesperson told AFP the government was mulling revoking all other motorway contracts awarded to the company.

Autostrade denies that it scrimps on motorway maintenance, saying it has invested over one billion euros a year in “safety, maintenance and strengthening of the network” since 2012.

Autostrade’s holding company Atlantia, whose shares crashed 24 percent on Thursday after a brief suspension, slammed the government for threatening to revoke its contracts “without any verification of the material causes of the accident”.

It warned that the government would have to refund the group the value of the contract, which runs until at least 2038.

The tragedy has focused anger on the structural problems that have dogged the decades-old Morandi bridge and Autostrade.

Deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio said Thursday: “You just can’t die while paying tolls.”

– ‘I went down with the car’ –

Survivors recounted the heart-stopping moment when the bridge buckled, tossing vehicles and hunks of concrete into the abyss.

Davide Capello, a former goalkeeper for Italian Serie A club Cagliari, plunged with his car but was unscathed.

“I was driving along the bridge, and at a certain point I saw the road in front of me collapse, and I went down with the car,” he told TV news channel Sky TG24.

As cars and trucks tumbled off the bridge, Afifi Idriss, 39, a Moroccan truck driver, just managed to stop in time.

“I saw the green lorry in front of me stop and then reverse so I stopped too, locked the truck and ran,” he told AFP.

While around a dozen apartment blocks that stand in the shadow of the viaduct were largely spared the impact of the falling concrete, the Liguria regional government said some 634 people had been evacuated.

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said the homes would have to be pulled down.

The incident is the latest in a string of bridge collapses in Italy, a country prone to damage from seismic activity but where infrastructure generally is showing the effects of a faltering economy.

The Morandi viaduct, completed in 1967, spans dozens of railway lines.

The bridge has been riddled with structural problems since its construction, which has led to expensive maintenance and severe criticism from engineering experts.

On Tuesday engineering website “” called it “a tragedy waiting to happen”.

Conte said a national day of mourning will be observed on Saturday.



‘In ten years this bridge will collapse’: the man who foresaw Italy’s tragedy — Government and Civil Engineering at their worst

August 16, 2018

“In ten years the Morandi Bridge will collapse… and we will remember the name of whoever said ‘no’ [to a bypass].”

These were the words of a frustrated industry leader in Genoa, back in 2012.

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Several trucks stopped just before the edge of the collapsed Morandi highway bridge in Genoa.Photo: ANSA/AP

Just before midday on Tuesday, in the middle of a violent storm, a massive pillar of the 1.1-kilometre bridge collapsed. An 80-metre span fell to the ground far below, cars and trucks tumbling with it, killing at least 39 people including three children.

“If there are people responsible they will have to pay,” said Danilo Toninelli, infrastructure minister.

“There cannot be such slaughter without guilt,” said Matteo Salvini, minister of the interior, one of two deputy prime ministers and the most powerful politician in the country.

By Nick Miller

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Matteo Salvini, Italy’s deputy prime minister, center speaks to the media as he visits the Morandi motorway bridge after it partially collapsed in Genoa, Italy.Photo: Bloomberg

In the wake of this tragedy there is plenty of guilt to share around. But some of it may end up resting uncomfortably close to the Italian government.

The huge Morandi Bridge, spanning the gorge where the port of Genoa sits amidst coastal mountains, was built in the 1960s to a bold plan by Italian civil engineer Riccardo Morandi.

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Luigi Di Maio, Italy’s deputy prime minister, speaks to the media as he visits the Morandi motorway bridge after it partially collapsed in Genoa, Italy.Photo: Bloomberg

It was an unusual design – using much more concrete than was customary, even encasing stay-cables within it (hiding signs of corrosion).

Genoese architect Diego Zoppi told ANSA news agency the bridge was flawed from the start.

“Fifty years ago there was unlimited confidence in reinforced concrete. It was believed to be eternal. With the continuous vibrations of traffic, the cement cracks let air pass through, which reaches the internal metal structure and making it oxidise”.

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Vehicles are blocked on the collapsed Morandi highway bridge in Genoa, Italy.Photo: ANSA

The bridge has always required extensive maintenance work. By the end of the 1990s Genoa had spent almost as much money repairing the bridge as it had cost in the first place. And there was a constant murmur of concern about its stability. Experts called it a “failure of engineering”, a “failed technology”, and pointed to other Morandi projects that had collapsed.

For many years the city has had a plan – the ‘Gronda di Genova’ – a huge motorway bypass taking traffic to and from the nearby French border along a gentle arc through a massive tunnel and a smaller bridge, taking much of the load off the Morandi – including many of the heavy long-haul trucks.

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A truck lies on a side over the rubble of the collapsed Morandi Bridge.Photo: ANSA/AP

The case for the Gronda centred on the over-use and overload of the Morandi Bridge. A video produced last year for the project reported, over footage of a traffic jam on the bridge, that 25 million vehicles a year crossed over it.

But the hugely expensive project was bitterly opposed by locals – much to the fury of Genoan businessmen.

In December 2012 Giovanni Calvini, president of the local branch of the General Confederation of Italian Industry, Confindustria, gave a prophetic end-of-tenure interview to Genoa’s local newspaper, Il Secolo XIX.

He was generally frustrated with local authorities blocking reform and investment in infrastructure. He had one project on his mind in particular.

“In ten years the Morandi Bridge will collapse, and we will all have to queue for hours, and we will remember the name of whoever said ‘no’ [to the Gronda],” he said.

The day the Calvini interview was published the Genoa council held a debate.

Councillor Paolo Putti was furious.

“I take this opportunity to express my feeling of anger… and I must also say a bit of amazement,” he said.

In 10 years, Putti said, far from ruing a bridge collapse, entrepreneurs would instead wonder why they had squandered €5 billion ($7.8 billion) on the bypass.

He said the bridge could stand for another 100 years.

He pointed out that thousands were opposed to the bypass, and “we are the strong and Calvini and others are the weak”.

Putti was the local leader of the 5-Star Movement, M5S, the coalition partner to Salvini in Italy’s new government.

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The Five Star Movement swept into power on the back of many protest movements, including one against a major upgrade of Genoa’s infrastructure.Photo: Bloomberg

M5S in Genoa has consistently pushed back against the Gronda bypass, which it called useless, harmful and unnecessary.

In April 2013 M5S’s ‘No Gronda’ committee posted a statement on the party website saying they had been regularly told a “tale of the imminent collapse of the Morandi Bridge” but it was a “favolette” – a fairy tale. On Tuesday, the statement mysteriously vanished from M5S’s website.

Toninelli, the infrastructure minister, is from M5S.

And his party often takes the side of not-in-my-backyard locals against grand infrastructure plans – much of its rise to power has been through a quilted patchwork of smaller protest movements.

Just two weeks ago Toninelli told a parliamentary committee the Gronda bypass was on a list of planned works under a review that “also contemplates the abandonment of the project” if it didn’t meet new cost-benefit tests.

Italy’s spending on road maintenance fell by 12 per cent in the first five months of the year, according to media reports, and Italy has one of the lowest levels of roadworks in Europe.

But neglect of Italy’s roads began long before the current administration.

By the end of 2017 about 5000 kilometres of provincial roads were closed or unusable, Corriere Della Sera reported, and more than half the network had reduced speed limits due to unsafe road surfaces.

Officials were even unable to close some dangerous roads or reduce the travel speed because they couldn’t afford the road signs.

After the bridge collapse, Toninelli called on the management of Autostrade per L’Italia, the private company outsourced to oversee maintenance, to resign. He said he would fine the company and revoke its licence.

He blamed it for failing to have done necessary maintenance.

But Stefano Marigliani, director of Autostrade del Tronco Genovese, said the company had done all the maintenance required under its contract with the state. Indeed, it was doing work on the bridge just before it collapsed.

“The bridge is subject to frequent checks, it was a constantly-monitored infrastructure,” he said.

On Tuesday the long-time Eurosceptic Salvini had another guilty party in mind.

“If there are European constraints that prevent us from spending money to secure … the highways our workers are travelling on, we will put the safety of Italians in front of everyone and everyone,” he said.

Salvini rode to his extraordinary electoral success on the back of blaming the EU for many Italian ills.

But the EU can be linked in several ways to the Morandi Bridge.

It had long resisted funding the Gronda bypass, only approving the project a few months ago after years of debate.

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A worker inspects the the area around the collapsed Morandi highway bridge, in Genoa.Photo: AP

And the EU imposes spending restrictions on eurozone countries – all euro member states are supposed to have “stability programs” that ensure they meet expenditure and budgetary objectives.

Italy, whose economy teetered on the edge after the eurozone crisis, is now on tight rations. In May the European Commission reviewed Italy’s economy and reform program and recommended it reduce net government expenditure even further, by at least 0.2 per cent of GDP in 2018.

However, the EU had recommended more infrastructure spending, not less. The review warned that servicing Italy’s debt was “to the detriment of more growth-enhancing items including education, innovation and infrastructure”. It encouraged the government to foster infrastructure with “better-targeted investment”.

An analysis by Corriere Della Serra found more reasons the EU may share the blame. Part of the extra stress on the bridge was from a boom in extra-heavy trucks.

And this boom has been driven by several factors: the increasing price of diesel, but also an EU law limiting the hours that truck drivers can spend on the road each day.

And pan-EU competition has had an effect too: smaller Italian truck companies have been driven out of business by heavy-load international competitors: huge trucks driven by Poles whose salaries cost a third of their local counterparts.

On the other hand, Corriere added, lax Italian local authorities are to blame for allowing such big trucks on roads they should never have travelled.

The collapse of the Morandi Bridge was caused by weather, physics, and decades of mistakes and oversights.

This failure is no orphan.


See also:

Italy Bridge Was Known to Be in Trouble Long Before Collapse


Years before part of the structure dissolved in a lethal cascade of concrete and steel, it required constant repair work, and experts in Parliament, industry and academia raised alarms that it was deteriorating and possibly dangerous.

Those warnings fueled an intense round of finger-pointing on Wednesday among political parties and the private company that operated the bridge, none offering an answer to a set of crucial questions that will not be answered quickly: Should everyone involved have anticipated a disaster of this scale? How were so many omens ignored? And how much of Italy’s aging, often neglected infrastructure is also at risk of failure?

“It was not destiny,” said Genoa’s chief prosecutor, Francesco Cozzi, who announced that he would conduct a criminal investigation into the failure of the Morandi Bridge.

A day after the collapse, as many as 1,000 rescue workers in search of victims, alive or dead, swarmed a tangled mass of rubble and vehicles strewn across a riverbed, roads, railroad tracks and a warehouse. More than 600 people evacuated apartment buildings, miraculously spared under part of the bridge that remained standing. Some gathered somberly at the city’s morgue and hospitals, hoping for word on missing family members and friends, while others gazed in wonder at the empty space where the span should have been, and at the wreckage beneath it.

Clearing the rubble of the collapsed bridge on Wednesday. More than 1,000 rescue workers have been searching for survivors in the tangled mass of concrete and steel.CreditLuca Zennaro/EPA, via Shutterstock

The disaster poses a challenge to the governing coalition, which rode to office this year on populist discontent but is led by people with little or no government experience. Now, they must manage a crisis with the eyes of the nation on them.

Italy, not Turkey, is the biggest threat to European banks right now, strategist says

August 16, 2018

Image result for Italian debt, photos

  • Italy’s economy is the third largest in the European Union and the country’s new coalition government is currently working on next year’s budget.
  • Investors are wary of rises in pensions and state benefits, given that Italy already has a significantly high public debt pile — the second largest in the euro zone, at about 130 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

Biggest issue for European banks is Italy, not Turkey, strategist says

The European Central Bank (ECB) was reported Friday to be concerned that the ongoing currency crisis in Turkey could result in problems for the continent’s banks.

However, the real problem for Europe’s banking industry is Italy and what happens in that country in the coming months, an analyst said Tuesday.

“The issues in Italy… in the next three months are going to dictate the whole European banking narrative for the next three to five years,” Tom Kinmonth, fixed income strategist at ABN Amro, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe.”

Italy’s economy is the third largest in the European Union and the country’s new coalition government is currently working on next year’s budget. Its financial plan will be closely scrutinized by European authorities and, more importantly, by market players, following promises to increase public spending.

The euro sign sculpture stands outside the former European Central Bank (ECB) headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany, on Sunday, July 3, 2016.

Krisztian Bocsi | Bloomberg | Getty Images
The euro sign sculpture stands outside the former European Central Bank (ECB) headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany, on Sunday, July 3, 2016.

Investors are wary of rises in pensions and state benefits, given that Italy already has a significantly high public debt pile — the second largest in the euro zone, at about 130 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

If market players do not approve of the next budget, due around October, then borrowing costs for Italy are likely to go up, which in turn could affect neighboring European countries. It could also create problems for certain European banks that hold Italian debt.

Kinmonth said that apart from the budget, there are other events that could spell trouble for European banks. Ratings agencies are due to update their opinions on Italy in the coming weeks; the Italian banks still hold a high level of non-performing loans; and the uncertainty surrounding politics in Rome are making it increasingly difficult to predict what might happen to banks as a result.

In the aftermath of the 2011 sovereign debt crisis, investors have become suspicious of contagion risks across the euro zone.

“The Turkey issue is something on the radar, but it is far more idiosyncratic at a bank level and all eyes will be on Italy,” Kinmonth said.

Italy’s bond woes are a bigger global threat than Turkey — Italian debt hit by fresh sell-off

August 16, 2018

The chairman of Italy’s budget committee is frighteningly blunt. The country’s bond market will spin out control as soon as the European Central Bank stops buying its sovereign debt.

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“The bond spreads will widen dramatically. The whole situation is unsustainable without an ECB guarantee, and the eurozone will collapse,” said Claudio Borghi.

By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard
The Telegraph

This is a greater threat to European banks and global finance than the current opera buffa in Turkey. It is drawing closer. The ECB has pre-announced that it will halve purchases of eurozone bonds to €15bn (£13bn) a month in October, and will stop altogether at the end of the year.

There will no longer be a lender-of-last resort behind eurozone states on January…

Read the rest (Paywall):


Italian debt hit by fresh sell-off

Market jitters push two-year yield to a two-month high amid wider risk-off appetite

By Kate Allen 

The price of Italian government bonds dropped sharply on Wednesday afternoon in a renewed bout of selling amid wider woes for risk assets.

The yield on two-year Italian debt — which moves inversely to price — hit 1.435 per cent at one point, up 16 basis points from the day’s open to the highest level since early June.

Meanwhile the 10-year yield rose by 12 basis points on the day to 3.2 per cent, also the highest level for two months.

The fresh downturn comes just two days after a sharp sell-off pushed 10-year yields to 3.109 per cent as the financial crisis in Turkey precipitated a widespread move away from risk assets and into haven markets.

Trading volumes were particularly thin on Wednesday with Italian markets closed for a national holiday, a factor that can exacerbate price moves.

Jitters have repeatedly hit the €2tn market in Italian government bonds after the country’s populist Eurosceptic coalition government began negotiations on its debut budget earlier this month, something investors had previously not expected until the autumn.

That has left market participants focused on the economic and fiscal outlook for the eurozone’s third-largest economy, as well as the potential for a stand-off with Brussels if the government, made up of the League and Five Star parties, is aggressive in hiking its spending commitments.

In response, Italian bond yields have been grinding higher in repeated bouts of selling since the formation of the government in late May.

Two-year debt was offering a negative yield to investors as recently as mid-May, and each fresh bout of selling sees the price settle back at a lower point than it was before.


Italy declares state of emergency after Genoa bridge collapse

August 16, 2018

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has declared a 12-month state of emergency in Genoa after the collapse of the Morandi Bridge. The cause of the collapse remains unclear, but several possibilities have been flagged.


Italian rescue workers in the city of Genoa continued to search through the rubble on Wednesday night, in hope of finding survivors of  the Morandi bridge collapse.

It remains unclear what actually caused a 100-meter (328-foot) section of the massive structure, known as Genoa’s “Brooklyn Bridge,” to cave. The bridge collapsed amid torrential rain on Tuesday, causing vehicles on the bridge to fall some 45 meters.

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini did not speculate on how many people may be trapped in the debris but said that 1,000 rescue workers were taking part in the search for survivors.

Genoa: State of emergency declared

Developments on Wednesday

  • The death toll has reached 39, according to authorities.
  • Sixteen people were injured, nine of whom are in serious condition.
  • Authorities evacuated 630 people from nearby apartments, due to concerns about the stability of remaining large sections of the bridge.
  • Italy’s transport minister called for senior managers at Autostrade per l’Italia, the company operating the bridge, to resign.
  • Autostrade per l’Italia said it carried out regular checks before the collapse that provided reassuring results and the maintenance program had been approved by the Transport Ministry.
  • The transport minister said the company could face millions of euros in fines.

‘Unacceptable in a modern society’

Genoa Prosecutor Francesco Cozzi told reporters that the investigation into the collapse would focus on human error. In particular, any possible design flaws in the bridge’s construction or any inadequate maintenance will be examined.

Cozzi said he didn’t know who might be responsible but also added that the tragedy “wasn’t an accident.”

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte called the tragedy “unacceptable in a modern society.” He said that “all infrastructure” across the country needed to be double-checked. “We must not allow another tragedy like this to happen again,” he added.

Italian Infrastructure and Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli blamed Autostrade per l’Italia, the private company that runs much of Italy’s motorway network, for the incident.

The company was guilty of “serious shortcomings,” would have its concession to run the motorway network withdrawn and would face fines of up to €150 million ($170 million), Toninelli wrote on Facebook. Conte on Wednesday confirmed the government’s intention to revoke the firm’s contract.

Interior minister points finger at EU austerity

Meanwhile, Salvini blamed the European Union for making Italy unsafe. “Funds that would be spent on health and safety “are not allowed to be billed according to strict … rules imposed by Europe,” the euroskeptic politician told local broadcaster Radio24. “You always have to ask for permission to spend money,” he added. He did not mention any particular European rules on how Italy keeps its roads safe.

President Sergio Mattarella echoed the calls for better conditions on Italian roads.

“Italians have the right to modern and efficient infrastructure that accompanies them safely through their everyday lives,” Mattarella said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin were among the world leaders who sent their condolences.

The Morandi Bridge: The Morandi Bridge was designed by Riccardo Morandi and built in 1967. It was built using reinforced concrete which was the best-known technology at the time. It is one of Genoa’s most important pieces of infrastructure, providing a link to the Italian Riviera and France’s southern coast.

Why it happened: The cause of the collapse is still unknown, but some of the potential causesinclude a possible lightning strike due to the storm at the time of the collapse, an engineering failure, aging infrastructure and corrosion.

Concerns over infrastructure: Following the bridge’s collapse, Italy’s CNR civil engineering society said the working lifespan of bridges built during the 1950s and 1960s was only about 50 years. The Morandi Bridge has been in use for more than five decades.

law/sms (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

Aquarius ship to dock in Malta after migrant-sharing deal

August 15, 2018

The Aquarius rescue ship was due to dock in Malta on Wednesday after EU countries thrashed out a deal to take in the 141 migrants onboard, defusing another diplomatic standoff in the Mediterranean.

The ship was set to arrive in the Maltese port of Valletta at around 1.30 pm (1130 GMT), according to SOS Mediterranee, a French charity which charters the ship along with Doctors Without Borders.

The Aquarius had rescued the migrants off the coast of Libya in two separate missions last Friday, only for Italy and Malta to refuse access to their ports.

© SOS MEDITERRANEE/AFP/File | Aquarius crew members hand over life jackets to migrants on a boat in the Mediterannean last week

The standoff was a repeat of that seen in June when the vessel was at the centre of a heated diplomatic crisis between European governments.

Stranded with 630 people onboard after Rome and Valletta turned it away, the Aquarius had finally been allowed to dock in Spain.

On Tuesday, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain agreed to take in its latest passengers, along with 114 others who arrived in Malta on Monday.

The agreement is the fifth of its kind between Western European governments since June when Italy — until now the main landing point for rescue boats — began turning them away.

Italy’s new populist government says it has had enough of migrant arrivals, having taken in 700,000 people since 2013.

Far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has vowed that the Aquarius will “never see an Italian port” again, though the Italian coastguard continues to rescue migrants.

NGOs say they have a moral obligation to rescue people making the perilous crossing, who could otherwise join the estimated 1,500 killed en route this year alone.

Most of the 114 people onboard the Aquarius are from Somalia or Eritrea, and many of them are unaccompanied children.

Aloys Vimard, a coordinator with Doctors Without Borders (MSF) onboard, told AFP that the passengers were exhausted and in many cases mentally scarred from harrowing journeys.

One 13-year-old Somali boy had seen his parents killed in front of him. After finally making it to Libya he suffered horrendous abuse, “tortured for months with electric shocks”.

– ‘Wrong, dangerous, immoral’ –

Malta’s government said the military would help disembark the passengers, and that health authorities, immigration police and welfare officials would be at the scene.

The migrants would be medically screened and then taken to a reception centre where officials would start the process of distributing them between the five other European countries.

Spain has offered to take 60 people, Germany up to 50 and Portugal 30. France has said it will accept 60 from the Aquarius and another rescue boat that arrived earlier in Malta. Luxembourg said it would take in five of the migrants.

SOS Mediterranee praised the agreement, saying it “shared out responsibilities in a coordinated European response”.

The UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, also hailed the deal but warned that Europe needed to come up with more permanent solutions.

“The situation should never have come to this in the first place,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.

The UN called for an agreement “that provides clarity and predictability on where boats carrying rescued passengers can dock”.

“This is essential if further such situations are to be avoided,” it added.

Grandi said of countries that refused to take in migrants that it was “wrong, dangerous and immoral to keep rescue ships wandering the Mediterranean while governments compete on who can take the least responsibility”.



Genoa’s Morandi bridge disaster ‘a tragedy waiting to happen’

August 15, 2018

Part of Genoa’s Morandi motorway bridge collapsed on August 14, killing at least 35 people and sparking a huge rescue operation. Experts say that the bridge has been riddled with structural problems since its construction in the 1960s.

On Tuesday specialist engineering website ‘’ published a piece that highlighted how the bridge had always presented “structural doubts”, calling it “a tragedy waiting to happen”.

© Valery Hache, AFP | Rescuers inspect the rubble and wreckages by the Morandi motorway bridge after a section collapsed earlier in Genoa on August 14, 2018

Lending support to the website was Antonio Brencich, a professor of reinforced concrete construction at the University of Genoa, highlighting the constant maintenance the bridge needed.

“It was affected by extremely serious corrosion problems linked to the technology that was used (in construction). Morandi wanted to use a technology that he had patented that was no longer used afterwards and that showed itself to be a failure,” Brencich told Radio Capitale.

Brencich has long been a critic of the bridge. In 2016 he spoke with ‘’ about construction going over budget and poor calculations over concrete viscosity that led to an uneven road surface which wasn’t fully corrected until the 1980s.

At the time of the accident, maintenance work was in progress.

Italien Genua | Einsturz Autobahnbrücke Morandi (Reuters/S. Rellandini)At least 26 people died when the bridge collapsed on Tuesday

The Morandi bridge was built between 1963 and 1967. It has a maximum span of 219 metres, a total length of 1.18 kilometres, and concrete piers (vertical structures that support the arches of a bridge) that reach 90 metres in height.

The technology of pre-stressed reinforced concrete used in the construction was the hallmark of its designer, the celebrated Italian engineer Riccardo Morandi, who died in 1989.

Dubbed patent ‘Morandi M5’, he had used the technology for other works, including a wing of the Verona Arena in 1953.

Tender for work

Economic news agency Radiocor reports that Italy’s motorway agency had recently launched a 20-million-euro tender for work on the viaduct.

The tender provided for a strengthening of the bridge’s pier cables, including those of pier nine, the one that collapsed on Tuesday.

Notwithstanding the importance of a road that sees 25 million vehicles pass along it every year, the demolition of the bridge was being studied as far back as 2009.

Italian infrastructure from ’50s and ’60s dangerous

‘’ says that bridges like the Morandi viaduct should have a lifespan of at least a century, but the structure has been the subject of major maintenance work in the years after its completion, in particular to repair cracks and combat degradation of the concrete.

In the early 2000s the suspension cables put in place in the 1980s and 1990s were replaced.

“Fifty years ago, we had unlimited confidence in reinforced concrete, we thought it was eternal, but now we know that it only lasted a few decades,” Diego Zoppi, former president of the Genoa branch of the order of architects, told reporters on Tuesday.

Zoppi warns that it is impossible that similar tragedies won’t happen again without serious work on infrastructure built post-World War II.

“The Italy built in the 1950s and 1960s is in urgent need of renovation. The risk of collapses is underestimated, the works built at that time are coming to an age when they are at risk.”

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Malta says Aquarius rescue ship can dock, migrants to be shared

August 14, 2018

Malta on Tuesday said it agreed to let the Aquarius humanitarian ship dock in one of its ports and disembark 141 migrants rescued off the coast of Libya last week, ending a European standoff over who should accept the ship.

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“Malta will be making a concession allowing the vessel to enter its ports, despite having no legal obligation to do so,” a government statement said.

“Malta will serve as a logistical base and all of the reportedly 141 migrants on board will be distributed amongst France, Germany, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain,” it said.

The government also pointed out that a further 114 migrants were rescued at sea and brought to Malta on Monday. Sixty of them will be distributed among other EU member states.


Reporting by Chris Scicluna, writing by Steve Scherer