Divers’ relatives, OWTU, UNC stage protest: Families demand meeting with Paria

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

SEEKING JUSTICE: Vanessa Kussie, widow of diver Rishi Nagessar, walks ahead of Celisha Kurban, widow of diver Fyzal Kurban during a protest on Thursday outside the Pointe-a-Pierre head office of Paria Fuel Trading Co. PHOTO BY LINCOLN HOLDER – Lincoln Holder

THE families of the five divers involved in the February 25, 2022 diving tragedy at Paria Fuel Trading Company’s Pointe-a-Pierre facility, are calling for a meeting with Paria to discuss compensation for the trauma suffered after losing their loved ones.

They made this call on Thursday during a protest by members of the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU) at the Pointe-a-Pierre roundabout, outside Paria’s facility.

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 escaped.

The divers worked for LMCS (Land and Marine Construction Services Ltd) which had a contract with Paria.

Vanessa Kussie, Nagassar’s widow, said the families were protesting to let Paria’s board of directors know they are not accepting silence or excuses. The families want to meet with them to discuss compensation.

“We want them to come right now and when I say right now, I mean as of today,” she declared. Kussie said, “We are waiting for them for a week to come and meet with the families.” Paria executives have the option of meeting with the divers’ individual families or all of them as a group.

Kussie claimed that Paria is delaying taking action in doing what is right for the divers’ families. “It’s time enough to step up, man up to whatever responsibilities they have to right now.”

Kussie said since the Paria Commission of Enquiry (CoE) report was laid in the House of Representatives on January 19, by Energy Minister Stuart Young, there has been a stony silence from Paria. “They never came and spoke with any one of us.”

Kussie reiterated, “We want compensation for all of the affected families for life.”

She said, “We have to take care of children. All of the families have children. We want assistance right now. We want compensation for all the families.”

In the report, the commission described the way the families were treated, especially during the first 12-24 hours of the tragedy as insensitive and uncivilised.

At a virtual news conference last November, before the report was delivered to President Christine Kangaloo, commission chairman Jerome Lynch, KC, said some sort of ex-gratia payment to the families, for their loss, is the humane and decent thing to do. Lynch said he regretted not having the power to give the families this kind of payment.

At a news conference, at his San Fernando office on Monday, attorney Prakash Ramadhar suggested an ex-gratia payment of $5 million for each of the families, by Paria, would be fair.

Kussie agreed with recommendations in the report about the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) considering charging Paria with corporate manslaughter. This suggestion is contained in Section 33 of the report’s executive summary.

In this section, the commission said, “The commissioners are minded to recommend to the DPP, that on the evidence, they find that there are sufficient grounds to conclude that Paria’s negligence could be characterised as gross negligence and consequently criminal.”

Kussie said,”Somebody needs to go to jail and we’ll deal with that after (the compensation).”

OWTU Pointe-a-Pierre branch president Christopher Jackman confirmed Kussie’s statement that Paria has one week to meet with the families.

He said that should Paria fail to meet that deadline, there will be a second and larger protest at the roundabout.

Jackman supported calls from OWTU president general Ancel Roget on Monday for the dismissal of Paria’s board of directors.

He said the board should not wait to be dismissed. “They should do the honourable thing and resign now.”

Jackman called on the Prime Minister to act if the Paria board does not resign.

The families, members of the OWTU and members of the Opposition UNC comprised the protesters some of whom carried placards and pictures of the four dead divers.

The protesters held their arms above their heads, crossed their wrists and shouted, “Justice! Justice! Lock them up!”

They were monitored by a small contingent of armed police officers, some of whom were outfitted in riot gear. The protest was incident-free.