Young gives committee 45 days to probe Paria tragedy

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Minister of Energy Stuart Young. –

ENERGY Minister Stuart Young named three members of the five-member committee set up to investigate the tragic deaths of four divers in an undersea oil pipeline at Paria Fuel Trading Co, Pointe-a-Pierre on February 27.

They are attorney Shiv Sharma (chairman), engineer Eugene Tiah and subsea specialist Gregory Wilson. Energy companies BP and Shell will nominate two more.

At Thursday’s post-Cabinet media conference at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s, Young said the five-person group has 45 days to report, but could report as soon as two weeks if ready.

Last Friday, five men – Christopher Boodram, Kazim Ali, Fyzal Kurban, Yusuf Henry and Rishi Nagassar – were sucked into a 30-inch oil pipeline

Kurban’s son, Michael Kurban, rescued Boodram, but the authorities, backed by the coast guard, said it was too risky for him to return to save more.

On Monday, the bodies of Ali, Kurban and Henry were recovered, and Nagassar’s on Thursday at 12.30 am.

Young listed 11 terms of reference but said the committee was not limited to these.

“I start by taking the liberty of expressing my sincere condolences, on behalf of all the citizens of TT, and in particular on behalf of the Government, to the families, friends, colleagues and everyone who was affected by the tragic loss of these four gentlemen – nationals of TT.

“I got the call at 12.39 this morning from Paria to inform me that the final diver’s body had been retrieved.

“I take the opportunity to wish God’s grace on the families. May he give them strength. The nation, all right-thinking citizens are behind you.

“We’ve been praying for the men and their safety, up to a certain stage, and then after for the retrieval of their bodies.”

Young said last Monday the Government had promised an independent investigation by independent professionals.

He said Sharma has 18 years’ experience as an attorney, and Wilson 25 years in the oil and gas industry. Tiah was the Energy Chamber’s nominee.

“I’ve been in conversation with both of the heads of operation in TT of bp and Shell.

“This morning I had a meeting with Mr Eugene Okpere, head of Shell in TT. What we are asking them for is to ensure the two representatives are specialists in these areas.”

He said international firms had set procedures and in-house expertise.

“I’ve asked them not to limit it to TT necessarily, to find the right persons to come to the table, and also have the support of their organisations – not only from a procedural point of view, but are experienced in these types of investigations.”

Young said his ministry would supply a secretariat and an attorney, while the chairman could co-opt more committee members, although Young would instead advise the co-opting of expertise.

He listed the committee’s terms of reference. These included Paria’s scope of works, and the work plan of its sub contractor LMCS including safety matters.

Young read, “To examine generally the policy, procedure, practices, conduct relating to labour for these kind of maintenance exercises for Paria and other companies likewise.

“To identify the precise facts and circumstances which led up to, and resulted in, the loss of life and whether this was reasonable and justifiable in the particular circumstances.”

The committee will probe all decisions and actions taken after the divers went missing.

Also to be examined are relevant policies, laws and rules; whether proper safeguards were in place; the adequacy of equipment; and the sufficiency of LMCS’s plan of works.

He added, “To identify, whether by act or omission, any identified or unidentified party, directly or indirectly, caused loss of life.”

Young again sympathised with the bereaved, and thanked all who had helped operations to recover the men’s bodies. Looking forward to the report, he said he would not speculate in the interim.

He said a counsellor has been sourced for the bereaved, as he understood the high emotions being felt.

Newsday asked if the terms of reference included the coast guard’s reported role in prohibiting more rescue attempts after Boodram’s rescue.

Young replied that the committee will be given “an open sheet” to investigate from the time Paria had tendered the job to the time of retrieval of the bodies.

Saying his list of terms of references was not limited, he said, “It actually says ‘among other things.'”

He viewed calls for the resignation of Paria’s board and management as premature, ahead of the inquiry.

“I’ve not received resignations, nor at this stage am I calling for any resignations.”

He vowed not to prejudice the probe other than for something the population needed to know about.

Young reckoned the energy sector was big enough to allow independence in the probe.

Regarding any fresh safety measures before the committee would report, he said, “I’d certainly hope Paria and other operators have immediately learnt from this incident and implemented any improvements that need to take place.”

He said companies may undertake their own probes and actions.

Rather than a commission of inquiry, he said the probe takes place under his ministry’s legal authority, as likely given by the Petroleum Act and Paria’s production-sharing contracts.

Young said he did not think any evidence could be hidden from the investigation.