Blue Grotto's crystal waters contaminated by raw sewage

Mafia suspected of dumping pollution into Capri's natural wonder

The Blue Grotto, the most famous tourist attraction on the island of Capri, was closed to visitors yesterday due to fears its crystal waters had been contaminated by raw sewage, possibly dumped by the Naples mafia.

La Grotta Azzurra, as it is known in Italian, is celebrated for the intense blue tones of the water and the mysterious, silvery light thrown off by underwater rocks in the cave. In the 1st century AD, the Emperor Tiberius liked to retire to the grotto to swim and cool off during the hottest days of summer.

But the cave's problems have been brewing since reports that two employees of a waste disposal firm at Castellamare di Stabia, near Naples, had dumped 5,000 litres of raw cesspool sewage in the grotto using hoses. The firm has the contract for the disposal of waste from homes and hotels on the island to sewage treatment plants in the area.

The two men are alleged to have dumped the sewage to avoid paying charges levied at the treatment plants. They were arrested and are currently under house arrest. An inquiry into the polluting of the famous cavern started last week.

But on Tuesday afternoon, the longer-term implications of the affair became apparent after boatmen ferrying tourists around the inside of the cavern discovered evil-smelling cream-coloured scum floating in it. One of the boatmen became nauseous after inhaling the fumes, and some of the tourists said they felt sick.

Health experts were dispatched to test the waters to identify the noxious substances, and police said the grotto would not be reopened until their work was completed.

The Naples region, which includes Capri, has for years been beset by problems connected with rubbish disposal, largely because of the success of the Camorra, the local equivalent of the Sicilian Mafia, in infiltrating the industry. Last year, in the early weeks of his new government, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi staked his credibility on securing a speedy end to a crisis which had seen the streets of the city, Italy's fourth largest, stacked up to head height with huge piles of uncollected domestic refuse.

Yesterday his Environment Minister, Stefania Prestigiacomo, claimed that the Camorra might also be behind the poisoning of the grotto.

Ms Prestigiacomo said the overall environmental situation on the island was "disturbing". "Structural problems, lack of infrastructure, a sewage system that is incomplete, with not all homes connected to it: this is a situation which encourages the infiltration of criminal gangs," she claimed.

"From what I have learned, the conditions [on the island] could lend themselves to being manipulated by illegal interests. The suspicion is in the air. I hope that the investigators will get to the bottom of it and make their findings known as soon as possible."

But a public prosecutor in Naples was quick to deny the likelihood of organised crime being involved. "As things stand now there are no elements to lead us to suppose that the Camorra is involved in these latest episodes on Capri," Giovandomenico Lepore, the public prosecutor of the city, said. "It seems to me a hasty and premature judgment to raise the bogey of the Camorra. To date there has been no evidence that organised crime has a presence on the island."

The Blue Grotto is entered by a narrow aperture in the high rocky wall some two metres wide by two metres high, requiring tourists, arriving two or three to a rowing boat, to enter lying down while the boatman hauls his craft inside with a chain.

The uniquely vivid blue of the light inside the cavern is caused by daylight entering through an underwater opening beneath the above-water entrance. The light is filtered by the water which absorbs the red tones, leaving the light in the cave a startlingly blue hue.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Partitioners / Carpenter / Multi Skilled Tradesmen / Decorator

£28000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Various opportunities are avail...

Recruitment Genius: Trade Marketing Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company leads the market i...

Recruitment Genius: Financial Accountant - Part Time

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity is available for a par...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Breakdown Engineers

£26000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Breakdown Engineer...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum