The contractor who earlier this week damaged a drainage pipe, contaminating the popular Xlendi bay with raw sewage and keeping visitors away, will not face legal consequences as “the pipe was going to be replaced in the coming weeks”, a Gozo Ministry spokesman said.

The bay has been closed to bathers since Monday after the contractor, who was carrying out works on Xlendi Road, struck and broke a main sewage pipe which caused untreated drainage to flow into the inner part of the bay.

Asked if the contractor, JPF Joint Venture consortium, was going to be held responsible for the incident, a spokesman for the ministry pointed out that it was an “accident”.

“The sewer pipe that was accidentally hit during works on this project is an old pipe which will be replaced in the coming weeks as part of the works on this project that include the replacement of old services,” the spokesman said.

The incident occurred in the early afternoon and forced bathers out of the water after the Environmental Health Depart-ment declared the bay unfit for swimming. The leak was stopped at 11 p.m.

The bay is expected to remain closed today as regular testing of the water is carried out.

Swimming in sewage con-taminated water can cause ear, eye and skin infections and, if swallowed, gastroenteritis. A Health Ministry spokesman said the risk to people swimming in the bay had been mitigated by prompt police action, pointing out that health warnings in five languages had been put up.

The Gozo Ministry said it had taken all the necessary measures to avoid “undue spillage” into the bay through a coordinated effort by various government departments.

But a restaurant owner in Xlendi feels the so-called “accident” could have easily been avoided by making sure the location of the pipes was known. “It is a huge, huge shame,” he said.

The problem, in fact, has nearly paralysed a main touristic site on the sister island.

Another entrepreneur from Xlendi said the drainage spill was the last straw for a season that was already not so good. “First we had bad weather, then people stayed home to watch the World Cup and now this – Xlendi is empty at the moment. Hitting the pipe could have been avoided,” he said.

A restaurant owner conceded that accidents do happen but he too insisted that this one could have been avoided since the authorities had the instruments to mark the pipe.

A business outlet owner criticised the fact that the reconstruction of the road was taking place in summer. “The government is taking its time to do this road – they are taking it easy,” he said.

Reconstruction works on Xlendi Road, which forms part of a €9.5 million EU funded project, started in June after the tendering process was delayed. The Gozo Ministry has pointed out that the work was done in summer to make sure the EU deadline for funding was met.

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