​Attorney: PM must make Paria pay families in diving tragedy

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

The four divers who died in an accident at Paria Fuel Trading Company Ltd’s Pointe-a-Pierre facility in February 2022. From left: Kazim Ali Jnr, Yusuf Henry, Rishi Nagassar and Fyzal Kurban. –

Defence attorney Prakash Ramadhar has signalled his intentions to approach the Prime Minister for him to instruct the board of state-owned Paria Fuel Trading Ltd to decide on the proposal of a $5 million ex-gratia payment to each family of the divers killed in the Paria diving tragedy.

“If it is that we do not hear from Paria in relation to the ex-gratia payment, we may very well have to approach the PM and his office and the line minister to ask them to give a directive to Paria as to what decisions they should take,” Ramadhar said.

He spoke at a press conference at his law office in San Fernando on Monday about the tragedy he called a national travesty and a national disaster.

On February 25, 2022, five divers – Christopher Boodram, Kazim Ali Jnr, Fyzal Kurban, Yusuf Henry and Rishi Nagassar – were repairing a 30-inch pipeline at Paria’s Pointe-a-Pierre facility when they were sucked into it.

Only Boodram survived.

They were employed with Land Marine Construction Services (LMCS). A report from the commission of enquiry (CoE) into the tragedy recommended charges against Paria and LMCS. The Occupational Safety and Health Authority and Agency (OSHA) has filed 12 charges against LMCS, Paria and three of Paria’s executive managers. Those charges remain on hold, pending a ruling by the Privy Council for a decision on whether OSHA can file claims after six months from when the cause of action became known to it. OSHA complaints are against LMCS, with two against Paria, its general manager Mushtaq Mohammed and terminal operations manager Collin Piper and one against technical and maintenance manager Michael Wei.

Ramadhar represents the Kurban and Henry families, and Kurban’s widow, Celisha Kurban, was also at the press conference on Monday.

The attorney said it might be incumbent upon those who advise the PM to advise him to invite members of the families to a meeting to give them at least some comfort and to show that someone in authority cares or is in their corner.

“We do not wish to embark on long-term legal battles that would only benefit lawyers and not the people who matter most. Matters take years at an incredible cost to the state, in which we, the people, pay,” he said.

“If we could avoid that, we would. But if there is a battle to be engaged, we need also to know as soon as possible.”

Ramadhar recalled that he and his legal team had promised to file an action against Paria and LMCS before the second anniversary of the tragedy.

While they have yet to file, the team is prepared.

The reason for not filing, he added, was due to comments by Dr Rowley after the final report of the CoE was laid in Parliament.

Rowley had said that the tragedy was a legal matter of liabilities and responsibilities, and it would be quite unusual at this stage for the Government to override the responsibility and role of the board and other entities involved.

Rowley added it was not a matter for the state to jump in.

“The Prime Minister might be right that it is up to the board to make decisions. But they must make a decision, one way or the other. We do not have the luxury of them taking their glorious time. If an ex-gratia payment is made and we are satisfied with it, that will bring an end to legal litigation.”

“If they decide they are not going to give ex-gratia payment, then we have no choice but to file an action in the High Court. Justice in this country ought not to be found only in the courts. The court must be used only as a last resort, not as a first action.”

Ramadhar recalled that he and his team wrote to the corporate secretary of Paria on February 2 about whether the families were going to be paid or not. The attorneys wrote several other letters to the board.

The state board has not responded. Instead, Ramadhar said his office got a response from the law firm Johnson, Camacho, and Singh saying there is a consideration for the proposal.

“One would expect that the right and decent thing to do, having regard to the circumstances of this tragedy, would have been for Paria and LMCS to make an ex-gratia payment,” Ramadhar said.

“We know the delays in court can be overwhelming, and for those who have limited or no resources, it could be an act of suffocation. It is a slow-burning crime for this matter not to be resolved and for every day that passes adds to the orgy of horror and shamelessness that we now see in this society.”

Ramadhar added that the lawyers from the firm, responding on behalf of Paria, had also responded to two pre-action protocol letters last year indicating that the company had no liability in the tragedy.

“I would have thought that Paria’s board would have taken advice from its lawyers (to) respond as the board and not from the lawyers. That tells me that we are in troubled waters,” he said.

He added that the divers’ families are the ongoing victims of a failure to act by instruments of the state. The ex-political leader of the Congress of the People said he was not politicising the issue, having left politics in 2020.