Contractor LMCS Ltd: Paria prevented us from rescuing divers

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Paria Fuel Trading chairman Newman George. – Photo by Marvin Hamilton

PRIVATE autopsies were performed on the bodies of the four divers who were sucked into a 30-inch diameter pipeline at Paria Trading Company Ltd, Pointe-a-Pierre, almost two weeks ago. The autopsies were paid for by their employer, LMCS Ltd.

Eleven days after the tragedy which evoked much public sentiment, the company broke its silence by way of a statement on Monday, alleging it was prevented from rescuing the divers soon after contact was lost with them.

Before 3 pm on February 25, five divers, all employees of LMCS of Tarouba Road, Marabella, were working on the No 36 sea line riser on Berth 6, when tragedy struck.

Fyzal Kurban. –

Four of the men – Kazim Jeremiah Ali, Yusuf Henry, Fyzal Kurban and Rishi Nagassar – were killed. Christopher Boodram was the only survivor to be rescued hours after the incident described as “horrific” by LMCS.

What happened on that fateful day is now the subject of an independent inquiry led by attorney Shiv Sharma.

LMCS is the firm contracted to do maintenance work on the pipeline and last Friday, Energy Minister Stuart Young told Parliament the company had been taken off all work on the pipeline for the time being.

The Tarouba-based contractor, owned by Ali’s father, Kazim Ali Sr, has retained the services of attorney Gerald Ramdeen who issued Monday’s statement to the media.

“Those who were responsible for this tragedy that led to the death of our employees and the serious injuries to Mr Boodram must be held accountable for their actions or lack thereof. The public interest requires no less. The families who lost their loved ones deserve no less. LMCS will be satisfied with no less,” the statement said.

PRIVATE AUTOPSIES DONE

Newsday understands the company hired and paid for the services of specialist pathologist Prof Hubert Daisley to perform private autopsies on the bodies of Ali, Kurban, Henry and Nagassar.

Two were done on Saturday, one on Monday while Nagassar’s is expected to be done on Tuesday.

Rishi Nagassar. –

The first three bodies were recovered around 6 pm on February 28, and Nagassar’s body was found at 12.35 am on March 3.

Autopsies done on the bodies of Henry and Kurban, at the Forensic Science Centre, revealed that death was due to drowning.

Daisley’s findings, so far, have not been made public.

LMCS said since the incident, the company has been gathering “all of the relevant evidence” to retain international experts “to determine the cause of this national disaster and ascertain who was responsible for the deaths of our employees or the decisions that led to their deaths.”

So far, the families of three of the divers have retained a group of attorneys, led by Prakash Ramadhar, to represent their interests.

At a press conference on Friday, Ramadhar said the LMCS monitoring team had evidence of what transpired adding that his team had already gathered evidence to identify the person who made the decision not to allow other certified divers to go back into the water.

Yusuf Henry. –

LMCS, meanwhile, said from the time it was made aware of the loss of contact with its divers, its “singular aim” was their rescue.

“We not only had the manpower and personnel to carry out their rescue, but we provided Paria with the methodology to execute the rescue.

“At all material times we were prevented from executing this rescue by Paria and the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard,” the LMCS statement claimed.

The company continued, “We were not given the chance to save the lives of our employees. The effect of those decisions prevented us from attempting to rescue our employees and those who made those decisions must be held accountable for them and must justify those decisions, not only to the families but to the public and to the authorities that are responsible for the enforcement of the law,” the statement charged.

LMCS said since the incident, it has been concentrating its efforts on comforting the families who lost their loved ones and providing support to them “during this period of unimaginable grief.”

DEVASTATING IMPACT

“The impact of this incident on our LMCS staff has been devastating.”

It has provided professional counselling services to the families of the four divers as well as Boodram “address their state of mind and the anguish that has been visited upon them as a result of this incident.”

Other employees also affected by the incident will also benefit from these counselling services, LMCS said. It has also undertaken to cover the burial costs for Henry, Kurban and Nagassar. Kazim Jr’s funeral was held on Saturday while Kurban’s was held on Monday.

In Monday’s statement, the company expressed gratitude and appreciation to its employees, whom it said have been “a tower of strength during this tragedy,” and “every single member of the public who offered their support and prayers during this period of time.”

“In the interest and honour of those who lost their lives, we must demand steps are taken to ensure a disaster of this nature never repeats itself; where there are shortcomings, they must be remedied. We must demand that those responsible for the deaths of Yusuf, Fyzal, Rishi and Kazim Jr are held to account for their inactions and actions.”

Kazim Ali Jr. –

Since the incident, it has been reported that a vortex was created and a rush of water began sucking the divers further into the pipeline.

At 5.30 pm, a certified diver entered the pipeline to attempt a rescue although a senior official tried to stop him. It was at this time that Boodram was rescued and on Friday night, underwater robotic equipment was used to probe the pipeline looking for the trapped divers.

At 11 am on Saturday, there were reports that obstacles were encountered 100 feet into the pipeline and rescue attempts were called off.

Young and Paria’s general manager and chairman Newman George met with the divers’ families, who were camped in a car park outside the company’s officers since the night before. The minister announced pumping was expected to start within two hours.

Ten hours later, a diesel pump arrived on-site and at 2 am on March 4, while trying to remove the hyperbaric chamber with a crane, there was a malfunction and a new crane had to be brought in.

By 8 pm that night, Paria executives announced that the divers were dead and it was now a recovery operation. Their bodies were removed on Monday and Thursday.

The Opposition has since condemned the Shiv Sharma-led committee tasked with investigating the tragedy, questioning the independence of one of its members.

So far, three members have been named: chairman Sharma, former energy executive Eugene Tiah and oil and gas subsea specialist Gregory Wilson. Tiah is the nominee of the Energy Chamber while Shell and bpTT are expected to each nominate a member.

Energy Minister Stuart Young. –

The UNC has called on the two energy firms not to participate saying they are beholden to Government who are the ones to sanction licenses for the two energy companies to operate in TT.

Young, meanwhile, has asked the country to give the committee a chance to do its work independently and has condemned the Opposition’s statements on the committee members.