Paria report hits neglect of victims’ families

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Chairman of the Commission of Enquiry into the Paria diving tragedy Jerome Lynch. –

THE families of the victims of the Paria diving tragedy were not well treated both during the incident and in the aftermath, lamented the report of the Commission of Enquiry into the Paria tragedy, laid in the House of Representatives on Friday.

The report drafted by enquiry chairman Jerome Lynch, KC, said the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) should consider charging the Paria Fuel Trading Company with corporate manslaughter, while the company and its contractor LMCS might also be charged under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

On February 25, 2022, five workers – Christopher Boodram, Kazim Ali Junior, Fyzal Kurban, Yusuf Henry and Rishi Nagassar – were repairing a 30-inch pipeline at Pointe-a-Pierre but were sucked in by a pressure differential called a delta P, with only Boodram escaping to later recount the tragedy to the commission.

The report detailed the causes of the accident plus Paria’s disallowance of unofficial rescue efforts arguably to prevent more deaths.

Families neglected

Endorsing a call made by Lynch at a recent news conference, the report’s recommendations called for families in such types of crisis to be helped financially.

“Lastly, in situations where families have had their loved ones and breadwinners snatched away from them in circumstances such as these or any tragedy, real consideration needs to be given to assisting the families in the immediate aftermath of the incident to help them with the financial burden that they have been catapulted into.” Such help is not an admission of liability but simply a recognition that such families need help, the report said.

The report at length lamented Paria’s treatment of the victims’ families, both during the tragedy and afterwards.

On the day of the incident the victims’ families were denied entry to the Paria compound, with Nagassar’s wife Vanessa Kussie having to resort to trying to get information from people leaving the compound. It was only a day later that Paria met the families, the report said.

“It is the view of the commission that the way in which the families were treated was insensitive and frankly uncivilised.

“The failure to keep them informed, especially during the first 12-24 hours, was shocking, as was the failure to look after them.”

Even in a car park, Paria ought to have provided basic shelter, toilet facilities, food and water, the report upbraided.

“Companies that operate in dangerous environments must have a protocol for dealing with the families of victims of industrial accidents and incidents.” There must be a proper procedure to keep families updated, the report said.

“Additionally there is a prospect of delay or a rescue attempt to be made, providing sanctuary away from the public and the media to the immediate relatives, on site, seems to us not to require any protocol, just common humanity.”

Blame all around

The report detailed the liability of Paria and LMCS by way of failing in their respective duty of care towards the dead employees.

While the Coast Guard had said their divers were not trained to rescue the men from the pipeline, the report said officers had failed to talk to commercial divers on-site.

The report alleged two Coast Guard officers had ignored calls to meet ahead of the hearings, and later on declined to give adequate statements until a subpoena resulted in one officer complying. With a witness alleging a Coast Guard member had pointed a gun to stop a diver attempting a rescue dive, one officer claimed Coast Guard members did not have guns but another said they did, the report related. “It is our understanding the coast guard are routinely armed,” the report concluded.

The report also criticised the long time taken to seek cameras, when in fact some details were already known about pipe conditions, and commercial divers were on-site.

Simply blaming LMCS for not anticipating the delta P incident did not exclude Paria from any responsibility after the accident, the report said, recounting that Paria exercised its control of the site. “No rescue attempt could have been undertaken without their approval.”

The report rejected as “mischievous” Paria’s claim that it could persuade no independent diver to enter the pipe.

It deemed one manager “evasive and less than candid.”

Causes of accident

Earlier, the report examined the circumstances before the accident, including oversight of the site and the responsibilities in undertaking the clearing of fuel from the pipeline.

Noting Paria and LMCS had both said they wanted only the correct, partial clearing of the line undertaken to create a space, the report said an independent expert should have overseen this. On the fateful day, the site was overseen by a technician who missed a requisite toolbox meeting and was on the job only six months, the report noted. The report said both Paria and LMCS had a duty of care to the workers. Both showed significant organisation weakness in managing diving.

Further, after the accident both had a duty to try to rescue the men, including the duty of anyone who contributed to creating life-threatening circumstances.

LMCS clearly had a duty to its workers, while for Paria the men were not trespassers but had been invited onto the site to do work.

“Paria made little or no attempt to rescue in that they failed to manage and co-ordinate the resources that were available.

“While LMCS’ divers were willing and prepared to attempt a rescue of the men from the pipeline, they lacked co-ordination and were prevented from doing so by Paria.”

The report cited 11 failings of Paria in this duty to rescue. This included spending three hours in open-water searches despite having information the men could be in the pipe, spending so much time seeking video footage that it became too late to attempt a rescue, failing to seek information from Boodram and a diver named Farah, and failing to use/consult an array of divers on-site. The report recommended ways to bring better standards to diving and industrial work practices in Trinidad and Tobago.