Paria boss: Wrong for me to comment on divers’ deaths

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Paria Fuel Trading chairman Newman George. – Marvin Hamilton

NEWMAN GEORGE, chairman of Paria Fuel Trading Company, opted not to comment on the tragic deaths of four divers last weekend at a Paria pipeline at Pointe-A-Pierre, when contacted by Newsday on Sunday. “I’m sorry about that but I have no comment.”

The tragedy has evoked national grief, amid lament that more efforts were not made to rescue the men, after one was successfully saved.

The divers who worked for LMCS, a private contractor, were doing underwater maintenance to pipeline on Berth Six off Pointe-a-Pierre on February 25

Five men – Christopher Boodram, Kazim Ali, Fyzal Kurban, Yusuf Henry and Rishi Nagassar – were sucked into a 30-inch oil pipeline.

Kurban’s son, Michael Kurban, rescued Boodram, but was told it was too risky for him to return for the others. All bodies have been recovered, with Ali’s funeral held on Saturday.

Newsday asked George if his silence had made him appear unsympathetic in this situation.

He replied, “An investigation has been launched. I think it would be inappropriate for me to make any comment at this stage.”

Meanwhile, Energy Minister Stuart Young is setting up a government committee to probe the tragedy, but a former minister has urged it be done by a parliamentary committee.

Young told last Thursday’s post-Cabinet briefing his committee would act under his ministry’s authority as likely derived under the Petroleum Act and production-sharing contracts. It has up to 45 days to report, he said. The five members are attorney Shiv Sharma (chairman), engineer Eugene Tiah, subsea specialist Gregory Wilson, plus two nominees from energy firms bpTT and Shell.

Young said the committee was not limited to its 11 terms of reference but had an “open sheet.”

However the UNC has called on bpTT and Shell not to participate in this committee, alleging a conflict of interest in both firms having an ongoing relationship with the ministry and in Paria’s CEO Mushtaq Mohammed having once been a manager at BP. Newsday sought bpTT’s response to the UNC’s complaint.

bpTT corporate communications manager Giselle Thompson told Newsday on Sunday, “We will prepare a formal response and forward to you but note this requires approvals from outside of country and we may not be able to get it to you today.” Newsday’s similar text query to Shell’s communication officer Candice Clarke-Salloum got no reply up to press time.

UNC leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar objected to Tiah being on the committee but Young replied in a Facebook post on Sunday, saying Tiah was well-respected in the industry for his “experience, expertise and integrity” and was not the minister’s nominee but that of the Energy Chamber. Alleging desperate behaviour by Persad-Bissessar, Young said, “She has sought to attack an innocent, independent and professional individual, who volunteered to give public service.”

PROBE BY PARLIAMENT?

Meanwhile, former energy minister Kevin Ramnarine urged that a parliamentary committee also probe the tragedy, in a Facebook comment on Saturday.

On Sunday, he told Newsday that a parallel probe could be done by the Joint Select Committee (JSC) on Energy (chaired by Colm Imbert) or the JSC on State Enterprises (under Anthony Vieira.)

With Parliament as the highest-institution in the land, he said JSCs have power to summon, call for reports and question witnesses.

“I think it’s very important for the country to get answers very quickly.” Ramnarine did not think the Petroleum Act had any specific clause to establish the committee proposed by Young, but said a JSC has its moorings in the Constitution. He said the JSC could be publicly broadcast.

“It’ll have more teeth. That matter has so jolted the national psyche that the representatives of the people should be the ones to probe it.”

Ramnarine otherwise said he’d like to see a strengthening of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act plus a consideration of a UK-styled Corporate Manslaughter Act.

Vieira told Newsday that in the Paria matter, the JSC on Energy had precedence.

In a personal remark, he said the tragedy was heart-wrenching and had cast a pall over the whole nation.

“I think the public really deserves a strong, vigorous inquiry into it.

“If there was any negligence, wrongdoing or errors of calculation, the public deserves to know and really want to see justice done.

“Lives were lost. Not just those lives, but it impacts families. The nation has really been affected by it, myself included.”

Pointe-a-Pierre MP David Lee was disallowed to raise the tragedy in the House of Representatives last Friday as a definite matter of urgent public importance.

However, when contacted on Sunday, he told Newsday, “I have plans to write to Minister Imbert as chair of that committee to initiate an investigation into that whole incident at Paria. You pre-empted me. I was in the drafting of that.”

“My next step is to send a letter to the chairman to convene an urgent meeting to discuss that whole Paria situation of the divers. I’ll be sending that out shortly to the chairman by tomorrow.”

Asked if he was advocating for a JSC probe, he replied yes. Lee said Imbert could call a JSC meeting within days to discuss his call for a probe.