Enquiry chair: Paria divers’ families deserve $$

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

The four LMCS divers who died after being sucked into a pipeline while doing maintenance at Paria Fuel Trading Company Ltd’s Pointe-a-Pierre operations. From left are Kazim Ali, Yusuf Henry, Rishi Nagassar and Fyzal Kurban. –

PARIA Commission of Enquiry (CoE) chairman Jerome Lynch, KC, lamented that to date, no one has helped the families of the four divers killed in last February’s tragedy at Paria Fuel Trading Company Ltd’s Pointe-a-Pierre operations or surviving diver Christopher Boodram with any financial compensation.

Lynch expressed this regret at the commission’s final, virtual hearing on Wednesday, one day before its final report on the tragedy is submitted to President Christine Kangaloo.

He also lamented that the families and Boodram did not receive any form of ex-gratia payment from any companies involved in the enquiry or the Government.

While confident that the Government would make the report public, Lynch said he regretted he did not have the legal authority to provide Boodram and the families with copies of the 380-page report.

On February 25, 2022, divers Rishi Nagassar, Kazim Ali Jr, Fyzal Kurban, Yusuf Henry and Boodram were doing maintenance work on a 30-inch underwater pipeline belonging to Paria when they were sucked into it. Only Boodram survived.

After the report is submitted to Kangaloo, it will be sent to the Cabinet, which will study it and determine the next step.

Lynch said it was public pressure which caused the CoE to happen.

The public, he continued, wanted to know the truth about what happened, why it happened, why so little was done to rescue the divers and how such a tragedy could be prevented in the future.

“I am convinced that no one wants to see this report gather dust on some dusty shelf in a government office somewhere. It has to see the light of day, and I am confident that it will.”

Based on correspondence he has received from across the world, Lynch said, “People are awaiting the outcome of this enquiry.”

Referring to an e-mailed question from Vanessa Kussie, Nagassar’s widow, about her and the families of the other divers receiving a copy of the report, Lynch gave this reply.

“I wish it was within my gift to give it to you, because I would like to do that. It is not within my gift.”

Lynch reiterated that the publication of the report is a matter for the President and the Government. He said the law does not allow the report to be given to selected people.

“All they (government) can do is give it to everybody or nobody.”

In response to another question from Kussie about whether the public would ever know the truth about what caused the tragedy, Lynch said, “We believe the truth is contained in this document, and if it is published, as we expect it should be, you will find the truth there.”

He added, “This report pulls no punches. It is our honest appraisal of the facts as we see them.”

Lynch said the report will disappoint or outrage some people, and others may want to challenge it legally.

After acknowledging that some parties are reluctant to admit to liability to anything if it meant paying some form of compensation, Lynch was concerned that some of the parties involved could start fighting each other, each insisting they did nothing wrong.

He added that should such a scenario play out, it could see considerable sums of money being spent in litigation “before the families see a single dime or dollar in compensation of any kind.”

Lynch said the commission was disappointed none of the players involved in the enquiry showed any care, concern or compassion to the victims or their families.

“We cannot help but think that this is something that should have been addressed, if not by the companies involved, possibly by government.”

Had this been done, Lynch said, “It would have been an act of kindness and human decency to have made some kind of ex-gratia payment without accepting any liability at all and given to them when they need it most.”

He lamented that he could not provide that kind of help to the families or compel others to do so.”It is not within my gift.”

Lynch urged people to set aside the blame game and remember the human element at the core of this tragedy.

“This enquiry deals with the death of four men, the extraordinary escape of one man and the long-term effects on their families.”

Lynch said no one, including himself, could not be moved by the sheer magnitude of the tragedy. He quoted a statement from Henry’s 11-year-old daughter to underscore this point.

“I got word of my father stuck in a pipe in Paria, I froze to know that but I prayed that my father and his friends would be safe. I went down to Paria with my mother, praying for a miracle for my father and his friends to be free. However, that did not happen,” the girl said in a statement given to the commission during the enquiry.

Lynch praised Boodram as one who drove the commission to uncover the truth about this tragedy.

“It is right that I should single out Christopher Boodram for his undoubted commitment in doing all he could to help his friends and colleagues on that fateful day in the pipeline.”

Lynch said Boodram also showed great courage, despite his trauma, to come before the commission and give his evidence about the tragedy.

“That was not easy. He is a credit to his family, the people and the country of TT.”