By Hana Namrouqa

AMMAN – Environmentalists on Thursday expressed concern that the Gulf of Aqaba will turn into a “junkyard” of ships unless naval authorities step up regulations governing maritime activities at Jordan’s sole seaport.

The calls came after the sinking of the passenger ferry “Pella” early Tuesday in international waters off Aqaba 800 metres deep after it caught fire last Thursday with 1,230 passengers on board.

“Authorities must be aware that the Gulf of Aqaba is turning into a junkyard… it is apparent that ship owners are finding it easy to abandon and sink their vessels in Aqaba,” Royal Marine Conservation Society (JREDS) Projects Manager Faisal Abu Sondos said yesterday.

He charged that lax regulations governing maritime actvities in the Gulf of Aqaba are allowing ship owners to take advantage of the situation and sink their ships in the gulf.

“Stricter laws must be formulated to protect marine life and sea navigation in the Gulf of Aqaba,” Abu Sondos told The Jordan Times yesterday.

JREDS Executive Director Fadi Sharaiha agreed, underscoring that “strong legislation must be put in place to ban sinking ships in the Gulf of Aqaba”.

He warned that the sinking of the ferry might harm marine life in the narrow gulf, especially as the”Pella” was laden with cars and trucks.

One Jordanian died after jumping from the ferry and drowning, while 27 others, mostly Egyptians, were injured last Thursday when the fire erupted on the boat, which was heading from Aqaba to the Egyptian port of Nuweibeh.

An official investigation is under way to determine the cause of the fire.