Commissioners begin enquiry into Paria diving incident

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj SC, Justice Dennis Morrison QC ans Subsea Specialist Gregory Wilson, at Hyatt Regency, Port of Spain, on Friday at the launch of the commision of inquiry into the Paria diving incident in which four men were killed on February 25. – Angelo Marcelle

TWO months after the five men were sucked into a 30-inch thick pipeline at Paria Fuel Trading Ltd’s Berth 6 and the death of four of them, the commissioners for the commission of enquiry (CoE) have been appointed and its work has begun.

Responding to questions from the media at the Jade Room, Hyatt Regency Hotel on Friday, chair of the CoE, former head of Jamaica’s Appeal Court, Justice Cecil Dennis Morrison, QC, said there were a number of steps that would be taken before public hearings began.

He said the first order of business after collecting all the evidence, would be to convene a procedural hearing. That hearing will not be the actual hearing of evidence but used to assess the value of all the material gathered to determine which will be useful in the CoE.

To give a date for the public hearing of evidence will be irresponsible of him, Morrison said. He added, though, that the procedural hearing will begin in August.

Morrison and local subsea specialist Gregory Wilson were given their instruments of appointment on Friday. Their terms of reference have 13 guiding points with the end result being them making observations, findings and recommendations into whether there was any breach of duty or criminal liability, what should be the appropriate practices going forward, what policies should be implemented and any other recommendations deemed necessary.

The commissioners have six months to submit their findings from the start of the public hearings.

The CoE was established to probe the circumstances that led to the deaths of Kazim Ali Jr, Fyzal Kurban, Yusuf Henry and Rishi Nagassar after they were trapped in the pipeline on February 25. Their bodies were recovered on February 28 and were reported to have drowned according to their autopsies.

Only Christopher Boodram survived.

At the time, the men were doing routine maintenance and were employees of LCMS Ltd.

On Friday the commissioners said, as far as they knew, this was the first of its kind in the region and world so there was no precedent for them to be guided by.

Asked if this placed any added pressure on them, Morrison joked that the stress began when they were appointed.

“Obviously we take this very seriously it’s something that has its own inherent stresses and we take it seriously and that’s all there is.”

Attorney for the commission Lawrence Maharaj SC, sought to ease the concerns of those who believed the commissioners, because they were paid by the government, would somehow side with Paria, a government entity.

Maharaj said Morrison was an appeal court judge in his home country and several other Caribbean countries and asked why anyone would think him anything but impartial.

“I wish to assure you as counsel for the CoE, I wish to assure Trinidad and Tobago, I will do everything within my power to get all the relevant evidence to be presented to the CoE. I will discharge those duties independently and impartially and in fairness.”

The commission has the power to compel witness testimony and documents Maharaj said adding that all relevant parties will be subjected to give evidence. He said letters were sent to Paria, LCMS and the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard for evidence.

Asked what the commissioners did to insulate themselves to avoid entering the commission with “tainted minds,” Morrison and Wilson said they kept away from the information completely.

Both men also assured that they were not, in any way, connected, directly or indirectly, to the government and had no connection to Paria.

In response to a question that the CoE was a waste of taxpayers’ money, Maharaj said CoEs were one of the tools used by governments throughout the world for unearthing the truth.

“The only way that allegations which are made can be assessed properly is for it to be presented and for people to be able to get an opportunity to present the facts to an adjudicated tribunal.

“What is happening with this CoE, all the allegations which are being made, the public will have an opportunity and they will be able to see the hearing. They’ll be able to assess for themselves persons who make allegations.”

He said the public would have an opportunity to determine whether the CoE’s findings were consistent with the evidence presented.

“So I think that the CoE is one of the important tools for a government when there are circumstances like this.”

The CoE, when it begins, will be held at the old office of the Attorney General on St Vincent Street.