Workers at Jordan’s Red Sea port of Aqaba began a work stoppage on Sunday to protest poor security measures after the deaths of thirteen people in an accident with a chlorine gas leak at a large bay, union members said.
The deaths and injuries of more than 300 workers came after a crane that loaded chlorine containers onto a ship dropped one on the quay last Monday and caused it to explode.
“We are committed to the strike until our demands to provide the right industrial safety environment are met,” said Ahmad Amayra, a leading trade unionist who said hundreds of workers did not show up to work in the main port facilities.
A representative for the port confirmed that the work interruption was taking place, but did not comment further on the incident.
Industry experts say the incident could have turned into a disaster if dozens of workers who ended a shift had not left the site shortly before the leak. Winds also blew the toxic gas away from populated areas in the port city to the remote desert.
Government officials told Reuters on Sunday that the incident had revealed great negligence on the part of the management of the country’s only commercial port, where industry sources had long warned that security measures were inadequate.
The leak is the second major scandal to hit Prime Minister Bisher al Khasawneh’s government in recent years after at least seven patients died in 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 carried out by the prosecutor general to find out what happened.
“We need to focus on the investigation and to see which officials – by either being idle or negligent – have not upgraded standard operating procedures,” the monarch told officials on Thursday.
Aqaba port on the northern tip of the Red Sea has long been a major transit route for Iraqi cargo, but has also become a gateway for some goods destined for Syria and the Palestinian territories.