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Jordan port workers strike as officials sacked over deadly gas leak

Footage on state TV showed a large cylinder plunging from a crane on a moored vessel, causing a violent explosion of yellow gas in Jordan's Aqaba port
— Amman (AFP)

Hundreds of port workers staged a strike in Jordan on Sunday as the prime minister announced the sacking of several officials accused of "negligence" over a deadly gas leak.

A tank of chlorine gas fell as it was being loaded by crane onto a ship in Jordan's Red Sea port of Aqaba last Monday, releasing the toxic substance.

At least 13 people, including five Vietnamese nationals, were killed and more than 260 others injured, according to the latest official toll.

"The port workers are striking in protest over the weak safety measures at the port which led to the death and injury of several of their colleagues," union representative Ahmed Amayreh said.

About "95 percent of the 2,300" Aqaba port workers participated in the strike, he told AFP.

Prime Minister Bisher al-Khasawneh said Sunday that an investigation showed "great deficiency and negligence in safety measures for dealing with hazardous materials in the Aqaba port".

The director and other officials from the state port operator as well as the head of the maritime authority were sacked, the premier said during a cabinet meeting.

The gas canister's weight far exceeded the maximum load of the crane cable bearing it, said Interior Minister Mazen al-Faraya, who headed the investigation.

"The container weighed about 28.9 tonnes, which is over three times more than the capacity of the cable of 8.6 tonnes, causing it to break," Faraya told a news conference.

A total of "18 containers of chlorine gas were supposed to be loaded onto the ship", he said.

"During the loading of the fifth, the cable broke and the container fell, leading to the gas leak," he added.

Faraya blamed the incident on "recklessness and negligence" at several levels, saying the port company had failed to show leadership.

Union representative Amayreh said the striking port workers were demanding officials ensure the implementation of proper safety measures.

Jordan's public prosecutor had on Tuesday launched an investigation into the incident, which caused the temporary closure of Aqaba's nearby beaches.

Aqaba is Jordan's only maritime gateway and a transit point for the lion's share of its imports and exports.