OWTU demands tough action against Paria board, managers

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

ANGRY: Members of the OWTU display their displeasure during a press conference on Monday in San Fernando where they demanded action after the Paria drowning report was laid in Parliament last week. PHOTO BY YVONNE WEBB – Yvonne Webb

The Oilfield Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) has called for legal action to be taken against the board of directors and management of Paria Fuel Trading Company arising from the commission of enquiry (CoE) report on the deaths of four divers in an undersea pipeline in February 2022.

At a news conference on Monday, president general of OWTU Ancel Roget said firing them was not good enough, noting the CoE’s recommendation for a charge of corporate manslaughter against the state-owned company. It did not recommend criminal charges against any company official.

Roget said while corporate manslaughter seems to be the focus, stronger action should be considered against individuals named in the report.

He said the report cannot be the end of this incident and such a tragedy must never happen again.

“The buck must stop here.”

The board is led by chairman Newman George.

Roget argued, “’Corporate’ is not the building. It is not the logo. ‘Corporate’ is the people who are at the top of the management of Paria. It is about people who prevented people from rescuing people.”

He said failure was a recurring factor throughout the report.

Councillor Vanessa Kussie, the widow of one of the divers, Rishi Nagassar, was at the news conference but did not speak.

In the February 25, 2022 incident, four divers – Fyzal Kurban, Kazim Ali Jnr, Yusuf Henry and Nagassar – died after they were sucked into a pipeline at Pointe-a-Pierre. They were hired by LMCS Ltd, owned by Kazim Ali Snr, the father of Kazim.

The CoE did recommend industrial relations charges under the Occupational Safety and Health Act against Paria incident team commander Colin Piper, LMCS and Kazim Ali Snr. It said the Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA) has until February 24 to initiate such proceedings before the Industrial Court.

Roget asked the media to picture the chilling situation from the testimony of lone survivor Christopher Boodram, who got out and told Paria personnel his four comrades were still alive and no effort should be spared to rescue them.

“For hours and days he continued to hear the knocking in the pipeline to indicate people were alive, and, to the extent that Paria even instructed the Coast Guard to prevent the rescue, they are culpable,” he said at the Paramount Building, San Fernando. The news conference was held to demand that the CoE’s recommendations be implemented and not left to collect dust, and for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to be effectively resourced to carry out the tasks before him.

Had there been a union presence at Paria, that incident could have been prevented, Roget said.

“The blood of those four divers is on the hands of Dr Keith Rowley, (the late) Franklin Khan and Stuart Young and all who supported them to reorganise Petrotrin and have one of the most unsafe operations in TT today. Even in the fields and offshore, there are no regulations.”

He said the greatest achievement of these leaders was to get rid of the trade union from the industry.

He concurred with King’s Counsel Jerome Lynch’s finding that the behaviour of Paria in leaving the divers’ families camped out in the car park for hours and days without facilities or information, while their relatives languished in the pipeline, was unforgivable.

“Business cannot continue as usual in TT after that damning report.

“We enjoin ourselves to the overwhelming call by right-thinking citizens for the removal of the Paria board. They must take full responsibility,” he said, chastising the board for not resigning or taking a leave of absence while the investigation was taking place.

Roget said while there is talk about criminal prosecution being statute-barred, he submitted that the State had a responsibility, in addition to what the DPP is looking at, to take civil action against those responsible, as a matter of urgency and in the public interest.

He again called for adequate compensation for the survivors of the victims, who he said had gone without bread on their tables since their breadwinners died tragically.

Roget also advocated for proper and permanent staffing and operationalisation of the OSHA which he said is starved of inspectors and other personnel who are on contract.