Rowley satisfied, divers’ relatives disappointed after meeting

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

The Prime Minister met with the lone survivor of the Paria diving tragedy and relatives of the four deceased divers at Whitehall on Wednesday. The Attorney
General and the Energy Minister were also present. PHOTO COURTESY OFFICE OF THE PM

THE Prime Minister met the families of the victims of the 2022 Paria diving tragedy at Whitehall on Wednesday.

He was accompanied by Attorney General Reginald Armour and Minister of Energy Stuart Young.

The meeting came after relatives of the victims signed a formal letter on March 22 asking for an audience with the PM, to which he agreed.

Divers Fyzal Kurban, Yusuf Henry, Kazim Ali Jr, and Rishi Nagassar all died, and only Christopher Boodram survived.

They were sucked into an underwater pipeline they were repairing for Paria Ltd at Pointe-a-Pierre on February 25, 2022.

The Office of the Prime Minister issued a statement after the meeting, saying Rowley had told the families Paria’s insurers are prepared to work closely with the divers’ employer, contractor Marine and Land Construction Services (LMCS), to arrive at a joint proposal for a settlement “without prejudice. “(Insofar as) he is permitted to, as Prime Minister, he has requested that the board of Paria do all that it can do to address these issues as quickly and as reasonably as possible,” the statement read.

The PM, it added, said it was not the government’s wish that the families’ anguish should be prolonged by a dispute over liability and compensation.

He said, like the families, Paria’s shareholders “who are ultimately the citizens” would want the matter to be resolved quickly, “but not in a manner that would be reckless, and affect insurance coverage specifically in place for this purpose.

“So, even if Paria were inclined to do so, it is simply not possible for a board to wholly ignore the fact that insurance coverage is in place and that another party is involved, namely the contractor, LMCS, and nevertheless proceed to settle the matter.”

Rowley, the statement said, has been told attorneys for two of the families and Paria and insurers have been in contact since February 2023.

The attorneys of another victim’s family sent further correspondence last month. The statement also said, “The PM has been further advised that no figures have as yet been exchanged between the parties and that Paria/insurers have recently requested information from the initial two families which touch and concern details surrounding employment by LMCS and earnings.

“This information is crucial in arriving at a proposed figure for any without-prejudice discussions with respect to settlement. That information is not yet forthcoming.”

Families left unsatisfied Boodram and the victims’ relatives were reportedly left disappointed at the outcome of Wednesday’s meeting.

Boodram said nothing new had been discussed and complained about a lack of accountability from Paria’s board. Rowley was asked to respond to the comments after Wednesday’s post-Cabinet media briefing.

“You see, the disappointment shouldn’t be based on an expectation. So that begs the question: what did they expect? I try to make it very clear that we’re dealing with an event and there are processes that need to be followed.”

Rowley said he told the families he could not intervene while Paria’s lawyers and insurance were taking their course.

“Paria is a State company but the board doesn’t own it,” Rowley said. “Asking for intervention by the PM to circumvent the insurance and legitimate liability processes is not gonna happen. I said so from this podium.

“So, if they came expecting me to use the Office of the Prime Minister to decree that A, B, C, D should happen. “That’s not going to happen because that’s not how it’s supposed to happen.

“I was at pains to explain to them the expressions of empathy and sympathy – that I must tell you, it’s quite a difficult meeting to have, with people, you know, who went through an ugly thing, what they’re going through.”

Rowley said when the incident happened, the government initially decided to “get some technical people in there, see what happened and take good control of it in that way. There was a big howl against that.

He said the demand for a commission of inquiry, which did eventually take place.

“Once you trigger that process of a commission of inquiry, all interested parties now have the potential for liabilities. Even as I speak with you now, those liabilities have not been settled.

“Paria is a participant but Paria has insurance,” he reiterated.

“Therefore, if what they’re asking me to do is to deviate from that, disregard the processes of Paria’s insurance and Paria’s determined or accepted liabilities, I cannot do that.”

Rowley said while Boodram and the families’ relatives may have been left disappointed, he found the meeting beneficial since the families raised some issues, which he will now examine.