Yesterday was an unusual day.

One of my friends remarked that yesterday was an unusual day.

We agreed with the former Minister of Tourism, Otmar Oduber, when he suggested issuing work permits to undocumented local residents who entered the country legally, in order to alleviate our labor crisis. He wants to add the undocumented to the ranks of tax-payers here, and he is right, though his motives for that declaration, are suspicious.

We also agreed with the current Minister of Energy, Glenbert Croes, when he reacted sympathetically to the unfortunate news about an accident at the mothballed RDA, Refineria di Aruba.

We also agreed with Mike de Meza, the former Minister of Energy, who said that you can’t let just anyone work at RDA, the place requires trained professionals.

I called a few friends to hear what they had to say about the explosion that injured three workers, on the RDA grounds in St Nicolas. The blast was significant, and destroyed all equipment involved.

RDA’s interim refinery manager, Ricky Croes, reacted callously, telling us not to worry, since infrastructure wasn’t affected. The injuries were suffered by contractors, it sounded like they didn’t count. He should have expressed his regret, but opted to play the incident down, not to make his cousin, the minister, look bad.

The incident was a typical third-world disaster, cause by possible compromised safety. I asked my friends about the requirements/permits/precautions involved in moving flammable substances, in the petro-chemical industry.

First friend: When I was there, all safety protocols were still in place and being followed. An investigation should bring out the root causes such as human factors, equipment failures, and procedural shortcomings. Based on findings, recommendations could be made to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.

We shouldn’t jump to conclusion, because accidents do happen, even in well-run operations, and RDA followed protocols and safety procedures, religiously, for many years. At the time, it had some very competent engineers employed, but I am not sure they are still there, things change, corners are cut.

It’s unfortunate and let’s hope all those involved recover completely.


Second friend: It is a miracle, first that this never happened sooner, secondly that until now nobody died…besides, I know nothing about petrochemical plant cleanup projects, they were reportedly engaged in.

10 years ago, the amount of US$300 million reserved for cleanup was believed completely ridiculous. The estimate then was more like US$2 billion. Besides the unknowns of 100 years of environmentally uninspected operations and the possible related liabilities thereof. Diverse variables define the total cleanup expenses. Aruba has worked itself into a billion-dollar liability.

Valero was a serious partner who was serious about the environment. But we squandered that relationship away.

In this incident, was safety compromised?

Safety should always remain the number one, and in principle all those who work at RDA should be trained and certified.

Are they still?

We only have questions. The report leaves many of them unanswered. Is the place still run by professionals?

The former Minister of Energy hints that it might not.


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January 11, 2024
Rona Coster