Paria Commission of Enquiry chairman: Better oversight needed

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Jerome Lynch, KC

JEROME LYNCH, KC, chairman of the commission of enquiry (CoE) into the Paria diving tragedy, on Tuesday said contractor LMCS undertaking works on a site should have been subject to closer external monitoring by Paria Fuel Trading Co Ltd or its agent, Kenson.

He said this amid the testimony of Paria site operations manager Jonathon Ramadhan, followed by Kenson employee Kirk Scott.

Lynch was initially critical of Ramadhan’s opening testimony, saying, “What I’m struggling with is a bit of obfuscation, like you are deliberately trying to hide something.”

Ramdhan denied he was hiding anything. He went on to say his role at the Pointe-a-Pierre site had been to monitor general conditionsm but not to oversee the exact details of maintenance works.

Asked about any concerns he might have had on any residual hazards due to any hydrocarbons/fuel left in the pipeline after some was removed, he said his main concern was fumes.

Commission counsel Ramesh Maharaj asked if he had any idea what was Delta P – a dangerous phenomenon due to a differential pressure thought to have created a vortex that sucked five divers into an undersea pipeline. Ramadhan replied, “I know nothing about that.”

Ramadhan said Scott was on site monitoring overall conditions, but not the specifics of the maintenance job. Lynch asked Ramdhan if he would have wished to have known if something was done that was not on the method statement for that job.

Saying the removal of migration barriers inside the pipeline was not approved for that day by the method statement, Lynch asked, “Would you want to know?” Ramadhan replied, “Yes. I’d stop the work.”

Lynch asked how he would know what works were being done. Ramadhan said that was the duty of one Mr Majardsingh of Kenson, saying, “He’d be overseeing it.” Lynch said, “You’d rely on him to give you a call.”

Ramadhan also said the contractor had oversight but an unimpressed chairman quipped that he was the one doing the job.

Ramadhan said the “contractor official” (LMCS) and “applicant” (Kenson) each were trained and had their duty. Lynch said if a contractor went wrong there was no-one to stop him, saying, “You want to put a fox in charge of the henhouse.”

Ramadhan said that was the system and he gradually agreed it could be improved.

Lynch remarked, “Do you think it merits change, when you’ve got a contractor to police himself and he goes off-piste with his work permit and you don’t know about it, you can’t exercise your authority?” He suggested Scott could have been given a copy of the permit to work which Paria had issued to LMCS to do the job.

Ramadhan disagreed, saying the role of Paria and Kenson was oversight not maintenance. Lynch let out an audible sigh.

Ramadhan, when later cross examined by LMCS attorney Camini Persaud-Maharaj, said when the accident happened he had tried to get information from LMCS officials, but without success. “I told them I’m the on-site authority. They didn’t respond. They were walking away from me. The only information I got is divers were in the water and they had one diver (available on standby.)”