By Suleiman Al-Khalidi
AMMAN (Reuters) – Workers at Jordan’s Red Sea port of Aqaba began a work stoppage on Sunday to protest poor safety precautions following the deaths of thirteen people in a chlorine gas leak accident at a major berth, unionists said.
The deaths and injury of over 300 workers came after a crane loading chlorine containers onto a ship last Monday dropped one onto the quay, causing it to explode.
“We are committed to the stoppage until our demands to provide the right industrial safety environment (are met),” said Ahmad Amayra, a leading unionist who said hundreds of workers had not shown up to work in the main port facilities.
A spokesperson for the port confirmed that the work stoppage was taking place but did not comment further on the incident.
Industry experts say the incident could have turned into a catastrophe had dozens of workers ending a shift not left the site shortly before the leak. Winds also blew away the toxic gas away from populated areas in the port city to the outlying desert.
Government officials told Reuters on Sunday the incident exposed major negligence by the management of the country’s sole commercial port, where industry sources had long warned safety measures were insufficient.
The leak is the second major scandal to have hit Prime Minister Bisher al Khasawneh’s government in recent years after at least seven patients died last March when oxygen ran out of a public hospital.
King Abdullah said he was waiting for the results of an investigation ordered by the government and conducted by the prosecutor general to find out what happened.
“We have to focus on the investigation and to see which officials by either being idle or negligent did not upgrade standard operating procedures,” the monarch told officials last Thursday.
Aqaba port at the north end of the Red Sea has long been a major transit route for Iraqi cargo but has also become a gateway for some goods destined to Syria and the Palestinian territories.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Jan Harvey)