CoE chairman slams Paria, LMCS on treatment of divers’ families

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Black Immigrant Daily News

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Chairman of the Commission of Enquiry into the Paria drownings tragedy, Jerome Lynch, KC. FILE PHOTO –

PARIA Commission of Enquiry (CoE) chairman Jerome Lynch KC slammed Paria Fuel Trading Co Ltd and Land and Marine Construction Services Ltd (LMCS) for the manner in which they dealt with the families of four divers who died in an incident on Paria’s premises, Pointe-a-Pierre last year.

Kazim Ali Jr, Fyzal Kurban, Yusuf Henry, Rishi Nagassar and Christopher Boodram were doing routine maintenance on a 30-inch pipeline at Berth 6, belonging to Paria Fuel Trading Co Ltd, Pointe-a-Pierre on February 25, 2022, when they were sucked into the pipeline. Only Boodram survived.

All five men were LMCS employees.

Addressing an evidentiary hearing held by the CoE at Tower D of the Port of Spain International Waterfront Centre on Tuesday, Lynch said the weight of the evidence to be introduced before the commission took priority over its admissibility.

He added the commission’s terms of reference “permits us to hear the evidence and to determine what if any weight to give to it, rather than to exclude it altogether.”

Recalling that some relatives of the deceased divers were allowed to make statements to the commission on Monday, Lynch said how Paria and LMCS dealt with the divers’ families during the incident, was something important for the commission to consider in its deliberations.

The companies’ assistance to the families, he continued, should be a core part of their response to such an incident.

That response should include open lines of communication between the companies and the families and possible financial support to them.

Lynch said, “Nothing in Paria’s documentation (policy statements, emergency response procedures, plans, incident command system or any other documents) or LMCS’ (documents or procedures), deals with communication by the employer or contractor with the victims’ families in an emergency situation. They should.”

This made the statements made by the divers’ families to the commission, relevant and admissible.

Lynch hinted these statements could form part of the commission’s recommendation “as to the future in these situations where there are communications lacking.”

Best international practice dictates there be a policy to deal with communications between companies, families, relatives and the public in emergency situations.

Lynch said, “It is our view that it is common decency to keep the families informed and to provide proper facilities to them, was the prerequisite here.”

Paria and LMCS, he continued, failed to keep the families informed of what was happening with the divers for 24 hours after the incident happened.

“That on any view, must be unacceptable.”

Having the families camp in Paria’s carpark near the Pointe-a-Pierre roundabout for days, with no assistance forthcoming from Paria, was also unacceptable.

Lynch lamented that it took an outcry from the public and the intervention of the Oilfields Workers Trade Union, before the families received some assistance.

He reiterated, “That on any view, must be unacceptable.”

Referring to the statements made by relatives on Monday, Lynch said rumour and misinformation “ran rife when there is no formal dissemination of the facts (of the incident) told honestly and timely, in a consistently updated manner by those who were in authority and knew those facts.

The issue of relatives’ statements being emotional and possibly prejudicial to parties before the commission does not arise.

Lynch recalled there was emotion in the testimonies of Paria officials Collin Piper and Catherine Balkissoon when they appeared last year before the commission.

“As fact-finders, we are able to set aside emotion in the task that we have solemnly undertaken to perform.”

He said, “There must be a humanitarian element to any future emergency response plan, that includes honest, regular communication with the immediate families of those most affected by the emergency unfolding.”

Lynch ruled that Nicole Greenidge, Afesha Henry and Tia Gopaul (the mother, sister and partner of Yusuf Henry respectively), could address the commission later in the day.

He also allowed attorney Prakash Ramadhar, who is representing the Henry and Kurban families, to read a statement written by Henry’s 11-year-old daughter Aliyah, to the commission.