Parties welcome enquiry into Paria tragedy

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

FILE PHOTO: Paria Fuel Trading Company’s Berth Six in the Gulf of Paria of Point-a-Pierre. –

SEVERAL parties on Thursday broadly welcomed the Prime Minister’s announcement of a commission of enquiry (CoE) into the tragedy at Paria Fuel Trading Company Ltd in place of a five-person investigative committee initially announced by Energy Minister Stuart Young.

Dr Rowley announced the CoE at Conversations with the Prime Minister at the Bon Air West Community Centre on Tuesday evening.

Five men – Christopher Boodram, Kazim Ali, Fyzal Kurban, Yusuf Henry and Rishi Nagassar – were sucked into a 30-inch pipeline they were working on, with only Boodram surviving. While sub-contractor LMCS had said it had wanted to try to rescue other men, Paria said a multi-agency team of experts had warned it was too risky.

In a statement on Thursday, Paria welcomed the Government’s decision to establish a CoE and “looked forward to presenting the facts on the incident of February 25 involving five divers at Paria’s facility in Pointe-a-Pierre.

“Paria also takes this opportunity to clarify and reinforce that the decision to prevent further entry by LMCS divers into the 30-inch pipeline during the search and rescue exercise on Friday February 25 was made by Paria and supported by the TT Coast Guard and other external experts.

“OSH (The Occupational Safety and Health Authority) is currently conducting its own investigation into the incident and Paria is fully committed to making available all relevant documents and information to the investigating team, and we look forward to the completion of the investigation.”

Pointe-a-Pierre MP David Lee told Newsday that Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar had called for a CoE last Monday.

“We are heartened that the Prime Minister has now gone that route.”

Lee wondered whether Rowley had initiated a CoE because the initial committee proposed by Young had been a failure.

“Maybe he could not get anybody to serve on that investigative committee to give it the kind of independence or transparency that would have given the country comfort, so his next resort would be the CoE.”

He wondered from where had derived the powers of the committee proposed by Young and said the minister had not given a clear answer when a Newsday reporter had asked this question.

Lee hoped the CoE could be done with alacrity, such that physical evidence would remain intact and witnesses’ memories would still be fresh.

Hoping for a continuous inquiry without breaks, he said, “Forty-five-60 days should be sufficient to get the CoE from start to end.”

LMCS attorney Gerald Ramdeen welcomed the CoE but with qualifications. He said the CoE’s success relied on its including the right people with the proper qualifications and expertise.

“The CoE is the right forum with the appropriate powers to investigate but this does not absolve the other authorities – OSHA and the TT Police Service – from continuing with their findings.”

Ramdeen was glad the CoE would have the powers to subpoena witnesses and use experts to find out what had gone wrong and who, if anyone, was liable. It could also make recommendations to improve work systems now in place, and if the CoE is done properly can provide benefit both in Trinidad and Tobago and abroad, he added.

“But all will come to naught if there is political interference or if people are appointed to toe the line of the Government. It’ll only work if the right people are appointed.”

Ramdeen was concerned about work now going on at berths 5 and 6, as he advised that OSHA and the TTPS both have the legal power to preserve evidence at the scene.

“A CoE can only do as much as the terms of reference mandate.”

He said one must see these terms before trying to predict the CoE’s efficacy.

Saying the bereaved families of the divers were the most important people in the CoE, he urged they be given whatever is required for them to participate in it.

“So the CoE is clearly a step in the right direction but we have to see what the terms of reference are,” Ramdeen concluded.