Paria hits ‘unjust’ claims made by diving contractor

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Paria Fuel Trading company’s Berth Six in the Gulf of Paria where four divers lost their lives while conducting maintenace work on an oil pipeline on February 25. – Lincoln Holder

PARIA Fuel Trading Company on Monday accounted for its actions in searching for the four divers who died in the tragedy at its Pointe-a-Pierre facility on February 25.

Five men – Christopher Boodram, Kazim Ali, Fyzal Kurban, Yusuf Henry and Rishi Nagassar – were working on a 30-inch pipeline when they were sucked in, with only Boodram surviving.

Paria on Monday said it had acted on the advice of a multi-agency team of experts which had warned it was too risky for anyone to enter the pipeline to search for the men, replying to an earlier statement by its sub contractor LMCS Ltd.

LMCS had said, “We not only had the manpower and personnel to carry out their rescue, but we provided Paria with the methodology to execute the rescue. At all material times we were prevented from executing this rescue by Paria and the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard. We were not given the chance to save the lives of our employees.”

Paria said it had felt it inappropriate to engage in discourse, but was now compelled to reply to LMCS’s statement.

It said the berth 6 pipeline had continued to be inactive since before 2018.

“There is no pipe connection mechanism, machinery, or equipment whatsoever connected to the section of pipeline under repair, so nothing could have been switched on or activated by Paria, to change the condition of the pipeline while the project was being undertaken by LMCS.”

Paria defended its action on the fateful day, after LMCS staff told them cameras monitoring the men working in a hyperbaric chamber had stopped functioning.

“Paria immediately activated its Incident Management Team. Paria also contacted emergency response organisations, including the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard, the Fire Service, Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSH), and the South West Regional Health Authority.

“Dive support operators – Mitchell’s Professional Diving Services Company Limited and Offshore Technology Solution Limited – were also contacted.”

Help was sought Eastern Divers Company Limited and the Commercial Diver Operations Supervisor from Heritage Petroleum Company Limited was also on site.

Paria said LMCS launched an emergency search and rescue operation, supported by Paria’s marine security vessels.

An LMCS employee entered the hyperbaric chamber but found no sign of the divers.

After three hours of the rescue operation, a sound was heard from inside the pipeline.

“Mr Christopher Boodram, one of the five divers, was found in scuba gear as he surfaced at the top of the pipeline within LMCS’s hyperbaric chamber.

“Mr Boodram was pulled out from the top of the pipeline by Mr Michael Kurban, a diver who was assisting LMCS in its operations.” Boodram was stabilised and rushed to the hospital.

“Paria was advised that Mr Kurban entered the pipeline on more than one occasion in an attempt to locate other divers and was only able to retrieve some diving equipment. No further divers were found.

“Mr Kurban later contemplated other entries which would have involved him proceeding further into the pipeline. It was determined by Paria – and supported by the Coast Guard, the OSH Agency, and external experts – that it was too dangerous for anyone to proceed further into the pipeline without posing significant risk to life.”

Paria said the vertical drop from the hyperbaric chamber to the seabed is approximately 60 feet within a 30-inch diameter pipe.

Paria said cameras found dive tanks wedged against the wall of the pipeline at 80 feet as it ran along the seabed, obstructing the camera from proceeding and locating any divers.

Denying being unco-operative, Paria cited LMCS’ statement of February 27 which said LMCS had been working closely with Paria.

“The Paria team has been fully supportive throughout this process and continues to provide all its resources to support our efforts, including people, capability and equipment.”

Paria said it had told the divers families the exercise had moved from a rescue to a recovery, on February 26.

“Given the complexities and sensitivities associated with this incident, continued misinformation, speculation and wild allegations only serve to further increase the trauma and hurt of all of those involved, which includes the grieving families and loved ones of those who have lost their lives, along with those who were involved in the rescue and recovery efforts.”

Paria promised to give “relevant details, documentation and recordings” to the investigating committee set up by Energy Minister Stuart Young, and participate fully in the process.

“We ask that we all await the outcome of the investigations before arriving at any further conclusions.

Paria expressed its very deep gratitude to all involved in the rescue/recovery exercise.

“We again unreservedly extend our deepest condolences and our thoughts are with the families, colleagues and loved ones at this extremely devastating time.”