Paria tragedy families ask PM for meeting

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Vanessa Kussie, right, Annisa Kurban and Kevin Lalchan, representing the families of the four men who died in the Paria diving tragedy on February 25, 2022, speak to the media before delivering a letter to the Prime Minister requesting a meeting at the Office of the Prime Minister, Whitehall, Port of Spain, on March 21. – Photo by Roger Jacob

VANESSA KUSSIE, representing the families of the four men who died in the Paria diving tragedy on February 25, 2022, is confident the Prime Minister will agree to their request for him to meet them.

She spoke to reporters on March 21 outside the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) at Whitehall, Queen’s Park West, Port of Spain.

The relatives had just delivered a letter to the OPM asking to meet Dr Rowley.

In early February the PM said he was willing to meet them but had not received any request to do so.

Two years ago, five divers – Christopher Boodram, Kazim Ali Junior, Fyzal Kurban, Yusuf Henry and Rishi Nagassar – were sucked into an undersea pipeline they were repairing, due to a pressure differential (a “Delta P event”). Only Boodram escaped.

Kussie, now the UNC councillor for Couva West/Roystonia, is Nagassar’s widow.

The report of the Commission of Enquiry (CoE) into the Paria tragedy said the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) should consider charging the Paria Fuel Trading Company with corporate manslaughter, while Paria and its contractor LMCS might also be charged under the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act.

The report also said victims’ families were not well treated either during or after the tragedy, and said the State should have given them financial assistance regardless of liability.

The families’ letter said they had endured “immense grief and hardship” after the incident.

Noting the CoE, the letter said families were yet to receive any form of assistance or to witness any action against those responsible.

“Our anguish has been compounded by the lack of resolution, compassion and support in the aftermath of this tragic event.

“Therefore we, the families, earnestly request a meeting with you to discuss and explore avenues for redress.”

The letter said the media had reported Rowley saying he would be willing to meet them.

It said they requested a meeting to seek his assistance to navigate their challenges to rebuild their lives without their deceased loved ones.

“Your willingness to meet with us would not only provide a sense of reassurance but also demonstrate your commitment to ensuring justice and accountability in this matter.”

They called on the PM to demonstrate urgency and compassion.

“Your intervention can make a significant difference in our lives and help alleviate our suffering during this difficult time. We eagerly await your response.”

The letter was signed by Boodram, Kussie, Celisha Kurban (Kurban’s widow), Jamie Manodath-Ali (Ali’s widow) and Nicole Greenidge (Henry’s mother.)

Accompanying Kussie to Whitehall was Kurban’s niece Anisa Kurban and a friend of the families, Kevin Lalchan.

Kussie told reporters she had been politely welcomed to the OPM by staff to deliver the letter, which she was assured would be forwarded to the PM.

“I think the timing is far too long. Two years passed. It is too long.

“Yes, it is a bit emotional, but I have full confidence we will be meet the prime minister as soon as possible. I think it will be an early visit.

“We did come here together as one, and we did not come here to fight and argue or anything. We came here as human beings and citizens of our country, and we come to just hand in the letter.”

She said the families had been visited by opposition MPs, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar and many other UNC councillors.

Asked if her hopes for a meeting with the PM were realistic, given that no government representative has yet contacted her, she said, “Because I have been asking for a very long time for the PM to visit and greet the families or meet us, as well as coming forward and seeing our children and seeing how we live on a daily basis.

“Being here today means a lot to me. We actually got to come in the compound. We went inside and were greeted very nicely. They treated us well.

“So I see no way that he would not be able to see the families.”

She said she was very positive.

Newsday asked if she has a plan B, in case she does not get to see the PM.

She replied, “I have no negative feelings right now. Only thinking positive.

“I am standing here in his compound and only getting a good vibe. I am not getting anything negative.

“They had greeted us well inside, from the security to the secretaries.

“And we had a bonus, Miss World (Miss World TT Aché Abraham) inside there. We took out photos.

“She had given me condolences, as well as all the security guards inside the building. I did get a good vibe in there. She said how strong I am and how proud she was of me, and this gave me extra strength to move forward.”