LMCS supervisor: Coast Guard stopped no one from trying to rescue divers

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The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

LMSC’s construction supervisor Dexter Guerra. – Photo by Ayanna Kinsale

LAND and Marine Construction Services Ltd (LMCS) supervisor Dexter Guerra said the Coast Guard never physically stopped anyone from trying to rescue four divers who were trapped in a 30-inch pipeline on February 25.

He also said the Coast Guard did not make any attempt to rescue them.

Guerra made these statements during an evidentiary hearing of the Paria Commission of Enquiry (CoE) at Tower D of the Port of Spain International Waterfront Centre on Thursday.

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

All five men were LMCS employees. Only Boodram survived.

Responding to questions from CoE chairman Jerome Lynch, KC, about what rescue plan LMCS had for the divers before Boodram was rescued from the pipeline, Guerra said, “Me and Andrew ( Andrew Farah, another LMCS supervisor) would go into the (hyperbaric) chamber with a rope. Andrew would go in feet first.”

Farah would carry his own oxygen tanks and another set of tanks, for anyone he found trapped inside the pipeline. Guerra said he would have been in the chamber with Farah.

He agreed with Lynch that the plan changed after Boodram was rescued.

Lynch said, “By now, you knew, didn’t you that there were air pockets (in the pipeline)?”

Guerra said yes, adding, “Because Mr Boodram said so.”

Guerra confirmed that other divers arrived at Berth 6 with equipment that would have allowed someone to enter the pipeline and attempt a rescue. That equipment included helmets linked to an external air supply and communication devices.

Lynch asked, “Why was that not done?”

Guerra replied, “Beats me.”

Lynch repeated his question.

Guerra said, “We were denied by Paria.”

He identified Paria incident commander Collin Piper as the person who made that statement.

Guerra said, “In his (Piper’s) words, we are not to do anything. The Coast Guard is taking over.”

He claimed Piper made this statement before Boodram was rescued. He also said Piper refused to allow anyone to enter the chamber or the pipeline.

A Paria official on site, Catherine Balkissoon, repeated that instruction to him, he said.

“I asked her if we could do the rescue, and she said she would call and find out. She did make the call.”

Guerra said Balkissoon reiterated the refusal to allow a dive after making the call.

Lynch asked if the Coast Guard took charge of any operation to rescue Ali Jr, Kurban, Henry and Nagassar.

Guerra said, “Not from my knowledge.”

Lynch asked if the Coast Guard had divers on site.

Guerra said, “No one in (dive) gears.”

He never spoke with the Coast Guard officers on site.

Lynch asked if the Coast Guard had interfered with LMCS’ efforts to rescue the divers.

Guerra said, “When Michael (Kurban) was attempting to go into the (hyperbaric) chamber, the Coast Guard (officers) were standing over the railing and Paria (officials) were giving instructions that no one was to go in the chamber.”

He added that the Coast Guard officers “were standing there with guns pointing to the water.”

Lynch asked Guerra for clarity on this issue.

Guerra said, “Yes, they did stop us.”

Lynch told Guerra he seemed reluctant to make this comment.

“What did they physically do to stop you?”

Guerra admitted that the Coast Guard never physically stopped any LMCS diver from entering the water. He also admitted to not paying attention to what the Coast Guard was doing.

Guerra said his focus at the time was trying to get Boodram ashore for medical attention and get Michael Kurban down to the chamber and the pipeline.

Later in the hearing, Guerra disagreed with Paria lead counsel Gilbert Peterson, SC, that LMCS was only forbidden by Paria to enter the pipeline.

He also disagreed with Peterson’s subsequent assertions that the call Balkissoon made to Piper was made on speakerphone and that Michael Kurban was not in the right state of mind to try to rescue the four trapped divers. Michael’s father Fyzal was one of them.

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