An official investigation into a recent chlorine gas tank explosion in the southern Jordanian port city of Aqaba found negligence was the cause of the incident, considered one of the country’s deadliest in recent years. While observers say the government response was quick, allowing the gas leak to be contained and brought under control, lower-level administration needs reform and revitalization.
Interior Minister Mazen al-Faraya says the probe into the June 27 explosion in Aqaba showed that senior port officials bear responsibility for “negligence, lack of caution or disregard for rules and regulations,” according to the investigative report. Consequently, the directors of the Jordan Maritime Commission and the Aqaba Company for Ports Operation and Management, along with other officials, have been fired.
Al-Faraya also says the report would be referred to the prosecutor-general for further investigation.
As a large tank of liquefied chlorine gas was being loaded by a crane in Aqaba port, a cable snapped, sending the tank crashing to the ground and exploding, releasing huge plumes of toxic yellow smoke. Thirteen people were killed, and some 250 others were hospitalized.
Al-Faraya says the tank’s weight was “three times more than the cable load capacity.” He added that the required safety measures for dealing with such hazardous material were not in place. He said no safety attendant was on the deck at the time to check the loading and unloading procedures.
Minister of State for Media Affairs Faisal Shboul says the government’s response to the incident was “professional and immediate” in containing the danger. He commended Aqaba’s hospitals, saying only eight of the injured are still receiving treatment.
Observers in Jordan say that while the government response was swift, they are concerned by this and other incidents, including the deaths of at least six COVID-19 patients in March 2021 after oxygen supplies at a government hospital in Al-Salt ran out. Jordanian analyst Amer al-Sabaileh, a nonresident fellow at the Washington-based Stimson Center, tells VOA these point to troubling signs in the bureaucratic structure.
“In Jordan, we are having all signs of a kind of crisis within the bureaucratic system. This is not the first in Aqaba,” he said. “We are not tackling something new, but this crisis in the bureaucratic system is taking the form of a ‘rolling snowball,’ which means it keeps giving us a time that there is a lack of discipline, professionalism. The bureaucratic system is collapsing, unfortunately. If there is no serious intervention now, we will witness new incidents.”
Jordanian analyst Osama al-Sharif tells VOA that those who served in Aqaba port were likely appointed by someone in government at some point in time.
“Who put them in these positions if they are not qualified to lead or they have the experience? This goes to many other companies where the government appoints people and has a say. Today, it’s Aqaba. Tomorrow, it will be something else. And people tend to forget. There have been so many investigative committees. This time, they had to review it because people actually died. And there was so much pressure locally and internationally because this is a very important strategic business — the ports,” he said.
Al-Sabaileh and others are calling for administrative reforms in the bureaucratic structure to “revive the spirit of institutions.” People with the right skills are needed, as are evaluation, monitoring and follow-up for institutions to “respond competently to a crisis in a steadfast manner,” he suggests.