[UPDATED] Government moves ahead with Paria probe after Tiah withdraws

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Eugene Tiah – File photo

The government is moving ahead to appoint an independent investigative committee to unearth the facts surrounding the Paria diving disaster in which four divers died on February 25 even though a member nominated by the Energy Chamber withdrew after a barrage of complaints from the Opposition.

Energy Minister Stuart Young, in a statement on Tuesday, said he had been informed about Eugene Tiah’s decision to step down as the chamber’s nominee on the committee.

The Opposition had raised objections to Tiah’s nomination on the gorund that he had once been represented by Young, an attorney, in a lawsuit before the Appeal Court.

It also called on two multi-nationals – BP and Shell – to refrain from nominating experts to assist in the enquiry, saying the companies were beholden to the government for licences in the energy sector.

Young described the complaints by the Opposition as an “unwarranted and unjustified attacks on independent persons and international independent entities is disturbing and destructive to our country’s interests.”

He said the government “is undeterred in ensuring that the matter is properly and thoroughly investigated.”

His statement follows a release from Tiah, a former energy chamber chairman, withdrawing from the investigative committee appointed to probe the disaster which killed four divers employed by San Fernando-based company LMCS.

In his statement on Tuesday, Tiah, an engineer, said, “It appears that the good of the country is subservient to the shenanigans of a few. I have thus taken the decision to withdraw from the investigating committee.”

On Saturday, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar raised objections to Tiah’s being a member of the committee – chaired by attorney Shiv Sharma and including subsea specialist Gregory Wilson and yet-to-be-named experts from BP and Shell. On Sunday, in a statement, the Opposition doubled down on its stance, and again at its Monday night Virtual Report.

Tiah, in his first response to the Opposition’s objections on Tuesday, said the Energy Chamber had asked him to be its representative on the committee, which has 45 days to investigate the diving disaster, and he intended to “bring to bear my 40 years of technical and managerial experience in the energy industry with particular interest in safety and process safety leadership.

“I believe that no time should be lost in ascertaining the facts that led to this tragedy,”he said. “Recommendations arising from the incident investigation need to be swiftly implemented and lessons learned shared throughout the industry.”

“I wish the committee members Godspeed with this onerous and supremely important task.”

He said he joined the nation in sending condolences to the families of the divers who died – Kazim Ali Jr, Fyzal Kurban, Yusuf Henry and Rishi Nagassar. The men were doing routine maintenance on a 30-inch pipeline at Berth 6, belonging to Paria Fuel Trading Co Ltd, when they were sucked into the pipeline. Only one crew member, Christopher Boodram, survived.

In response to Tiah’s stepping down, the Energy Chamber said in a statement on Tuesday it “will now consult with relevant stakeholders, including the Minister of Energy and Energy Industries, on how we should proceed in supporting this critical investigation.”

The chamber maintained its position that Tiah is “an experienced professional who is widely respected within the energy industry and known for his commitment to safety leadership and his integrity.

“As the representative association for the industry, the Energy Chamber’s priority, and responsibility, is to support a thorough and detailed investigation into the incident and to subsequently share the findings of this investigation so that lessons learned are incorporated into industry safety policies, procedures and practices to avoid any similar incident in the future,” the statement said.

On Saturday, both the Energy Chamber and Young defended Tiah’s nomination. In a statement on Saturday the chamber said it had full confidence that Tiah was the most suitable person to serve on the committee.

“We had absolutely no discussion with the Minister of Energy and Energy Industries on this nomination and simply informed the minister of our selected representative,” it emphasised.

Young, in a statement on Sunday, described the Opposition’s objections as an “unwarranted and unjustifiable attack” on Tiah, saying he had no input in the Energy Chamber’s nominee.

He also said, “It is also ridiculous for the Leader of the Opposition to attack me and to slander the Honourable Prime Minister, Dr Keith Rowley, and the chairman of Trinidad Petroleum Holdings Ltd, Mr Michael Quamina, in her far-fetched rant about Mr Quamina and myself having represented Mr Tiah, as attorneys-at-law over eight years ago.”

Young and Quamina represented Tiah and other former members of the ETeck board in the Appeal Court, challenging a lawsuit over a failed US$5 million investment with a Chinese-based company.