Widow of Paria diver wants compensation for life

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

In this file photo, Vanessa Kussie, centre, and other relatives during a memorial service for her husband Rishi Nagassar at sea in 2022. –

NOW that the report of the Commission of Enquiry (CoE) into the Paria diving tragedy which found state-company Paria Fuel Trading Company culpable of “gross negligence,” one of the widows of the four divers believes it is time for families to be compensated for their loss.

On February 25, 2022, five divers employed by Land and Marine Contracting Services (LMCS) – Fyzal Kurban, Kazim Ali Jnr, Yusuf Henry, Rishi Nagassar and Christopher Boodram – were sucked into a 36-inch pipeline at Berth No 6 at Pointe-a-Pierre. Boodram was the lone survivor.

The CoE 520-page report was laid in the House of Representatives on Friday by Energy Minister Stuart Young. It contained 52 recommendations and suggested the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) should consider charging Paria with corporate manslaughter based on its “gross negligence.” The reports also blamed both Paria and LMCS for the cause of the tragedy, in which a gush of water suddenly sucked the men into an undersea pipeline after a pressure differential known as delta P.

In an interview on Saturday, Vanessa Kussie, widow of Rishi Nagessar, told Sunday Newsday the company should now support all the families affected by the tragedy for the rest of their lives.

“They haven’t given us anything. And they’re supposed to treat us now as if we were one of their families. And when someone is taken away from you – and my husband was taken away, he didn’t go to work to die – so we have to get full pay for life. Compensation for life. We must get it full. They (Paria) must take care of all our children.

“I want to right now really focus on the families as immediately as possible. Because right now all of us are suffering. We don’t know how our bills are being paid. They need to really do something for the families, put something forth.”

Although not explicitly stated in the report that compensation be paid to the families, recommendation 38 said such a mechanism should be considered for similar incidents.

“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. This does not have to involve any admission of liability, merely the recognition that the families of those who have died or been seriously injured may need help,” the report said.

Attorney Prakash Ramadhar, who represented the Kurban family and the daughter of Yusuf Henry in the CoE, told Sunday Newsday he will be seeking compensation for his clients. He said they previously issued pre-action protocol letters to both Paria and LMCS with the former denying any liability in the incident.

“So, now that we have had the benefit, all of us, of the (CoE) report…Paria being a state entity at the very least, we will be writing to them another pre-action protocol with a request for an ex-gratia payment in lieu of litigation. It is necessary to put the families in a better place because of the torture they have already undergone and if you could avoid litigation that will be long and difficult, I think that would be the best thing. And according to the chairman himself, it will be the decent thing to do,” he said.

If the company refuses, he said they will not hesitate to file an action in the High Court against both Paria and LMCS. Ramadhar explained there is a formula used by the courts to quantify compensation in such matters, which includes taking into account the income the family is deprived of with the loss of the breadwinner.

Meanwhile friend of the affected families and activist Kevin Lalchan told Sunday Newsday the families have been struggling to survive since the incident with some even resorting to fundraisers to help pay bills.

“From since then to now the families have not gotten one black cent from the government or any sort of compensation from Paria,” he said.

Boodram is unable to work as he struggles to get over the tragedy.

On Friday he said the tragedy constantly replays in his mind and he has problems sleeping. He is receiving counselling.

The report also concluded there is evidence to justify the prosecution of Paria’s operations manager Colin Piper and LMCS managing director Kazim Ali Snr (whose son died in the tragedy) individually for several offences under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

However, neither Boodram, Lalchan nor Kussie believes Ali Snr should face charges, especially as his son was among the divers who died.

Lalchan said he is pleased with the report’s findings and believes it could set a precedent for any future incidents.

The divers who perished during maintenance work on a Paria pipeline at Pointe-a-Pierre in February 2022. From left are, Kazim Ali Jr, Yusuff Henry, Rishi Nagassar and Fyzal Kurban. –

In Parliament, Young said the report was forwarded to the DPP who will now determine what charges, if any, should be pursued. In the meantime, Kussie believes the company’s board needs to be removed.

“They are carrying on their lives like nothing has happened and they are working. Work is going on like normal in Paria. While we, the families, are the ones suffering. Our children are suffering as well. They have taken the breadwinners of our families. This cannot be laid (sic) under the carpet…justice has to be served,” she said.

In a release on Saturday, Mayaro MP Rushton Paray called on the Prime Minister to immediately remove the directors.

He said the report’s “damning revelations” requires Dr Rowley’s immediate action.

The findings, he said, exposed “severe lapses in duty and glaring incompetence within the board and senior executive management of Paria.”

“The government’s foremost responsibility now is the prompt removal of directors, irrespective of their political affiliations.”

Paria’s board of directors are Newman George (chairman), Fayad Ali, Avie Chadee, Peter Clarke, Eustace Nancis and Reza Salim.

Paray said Rowley must not use the review of the report by the DPP as a shield, “recognising the eroded public trust in Paria’s administration since the tragic industrial accident claimed innocent lives.”

He urged the Prime Minister to publicly commit to the expeditious implementation of all 52 recommendations from the commission’s report. He said the accident and subsequent loss of lives have left an indelible stain on the nation’s industrial landscape, warranting the immediate removal of Paria’s corporate leadership.

When contacted on Saturday, George said he was not in a position yet to comment as he had not finished reading the report.

Sunday Newsday also sent questions to the Energy Minister and Prime Minister via WhatsApp but there was no response.

In a statement on Saturday, the Trinidad and Tobago Energy Chamber said it welcomed the report being made public.

“Sharing the lessons gathered from this incident is critical for the prevention of similar events in the future. The detailed findings of the commission will be studied over the coming days and weeks by stakeholders in the energy industry and the Energy Chamber remains committed to playing a positive role in improving safety in the energy industry and across the country,” it said.