Attorney for the families of the dead divers Prakash Ramadhar who grilled Paria engineer Michael Wei at the commission of enquiry on Thursday at the International Waterfront Centre in Port of Spain. PHOTO BY SUREASH CHOLAI –
TECHNICAL maintenance manager for Paria Fuel Trading Company Ltd, Michael Wei, was on the receiving end of a fiery line of questioning on his company’s response to the deaths of four divers, from attorney Prakash Ramadhar on Thursday afternoon.
Ramadhar fired off question after question at Wei, during the third part of the commission of enquiry into the deaths of divers Kazim Jeremiah Ali, Yusuf Henry, Fyzal Kurban and Rishi Nagassar.
The divers died while working on a pipeline at the Paria Fuel Trading Company in Pointe-a-Pierre on February 25.
They all worked for the Land and Marine Construction Services (LMCS) Company Ltd which was contracted by Paria to do maintenance work.
Wei began presenting oral evidence from 11 am and finished when the hearing was adjourned at around 6 pm.
During this time, Wei who was part of the Incident Management Team (IMT) when the divers were trapped, was interrogated by counsel for the CoE Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC, chairman Jerome Lynch, KC, and attorney representing LMCS, Kamini Persaud-Maraj.
Wei was questioned on the extent of his company’s monitoring of contractors hired for certain tasks, the dangers divers would have faced while doing maintenance work and the sequence of events on that fateful date.
Ramadhar, representing the families of Henry and Kurban in a lawsuit against Paria and LMCS, began an intense line of cross-examination of Wei from around 5.10 pm, on what was done to try and rescue the divers trapped in the undersea pipeline.
Ramadhar asked why no divers were sent to rescue those trapped, despite sole diving survivor Christopher Boodram’s information on the conditions in the pipeline, which suggested a safe rescue was possible.
Wei said while he was not on site, Paria’s official Catherine Balkissoon was on site to provide updates on the situation. Ramadhar asked why Boodram’s description of conditions in the pipe was not used to mount a rescue attempt.
“That (Balkissoon) is your official! Did you make any effort to ascertain from her what the man who just came out, who is the best person to tell you the conditions in the pipe, what he actually said?
“Would it shock you to learn that he said, ‘Go in’ words to the effect, ‘Your father is right behind me,’ would it shock you to learn that today,” Ramadhar asked.
“The country has heard it, he gave sworn testimony. We have evidence from others, so let me hear you now.”
Wei insisted a rescue would have been too dangerous to which Ramadhar charged that Michael Kurban, the son of diver Fyzal Kurban, was willing and available to mount his own rescue attempt but was blocked by Coast Guard officials.
Wei also said he found out about Boodram’s information weeks after the event, and said the men were believed to be dead on Sunday afternoon, two days after the accident happened.
He added that from Friday to Saturday, after the incident, efforts were made to find out conditions in the pipe and develop a rescue exercise.
“The efforts were to establish the safety inside the line, without putting other people’s lives at risk.
“The principles of rescue are not to put other people’s lives at risk, it would have been a whole different scenario had Michael (Kurban) gone in, you cannot send someone into the line with unsafe conditions and you end up with a different situation,” Wei said.
Owing to the heated tone of the questions, enquiry chairman Lynch had cause to pause the interrogation and urge Ramadhar to be more measured in his questioning.
“We don’t have a jury, it’s just us two and I understand your enthusiasm on behalf of the families, but please try and contain yourself a little,” Lynch advised Ramadhar.
As Ramadhar sat down after finishing his interrogation at around 5.45 pm, he rose in indignation and protest after Jason Mootoo – one of Paria’s attorneys – remarked that he could not sustain the “drama” arising from Ramadhar’s questioning.
“If it is you’re going to go down that line about making me the issue here, I’m doing my job sir with all due respect and I have clients that are paying me,” an indignant Ramadhar told Mootoo.
Lynch cautioned Ramadhar saying while he understood the importance of his contributions, it was also important to hear the questions from other interested parties.