See the interview above with CoE chairman Jerome Lynch, KC, after the site visit on Wednesday. AZP News/Sue-Ann Wayow
By Sue-Ann Wayow
DESPITE the inclement weather alerts on Wednesday, the Commission of Enquiry (CoE) mandated to investigate the deaths of the four underwater divers made the journey to the offshore facility where the men tragically died.
Members of the CoE team, including chairman Jerome Lynch, KC, and commissioner Gregory Wilson along with other interested parties made their way to Berth 6, belonging to Paria Fuel Trading Co Ltd at Pointe-a-Pierre, escorted by Paria Fuel Trading Company officials.
Members of the media were also invited to be part of the 15-member entourage. Only one person, the CoE’s official photographer was allowed to take photos.
In a brief interview with the media afterwards, Lynch said he had a better understanding of what could have occurred on February 25.
He thanked Paria for facilitating the site visit and to LMCS for allowing the commissioners to go on the barge that the men, employees of LMCS were working on that day.
Lynch said, “At the conclusion of today, we will be able to report back in due course to everybody. I planned that we should have a number of pictures that have been made available on our website. Everyone would have an opportunity to be able to see what we have seen. I anticipate that many would find it very useful.
“In particular, we were able to identify the piece of pipe that was removed at Berth 6, I am really very pleased to have this opportunity to see what we were able to see.
“The visit has permitted us to get a real sense of what everyone was up against. This is not an easy location for people to work in. Safety is clearly a matter of considerable importance to Paria and those who work here. So it has been useful from that point of view to get a sense of how they approach their work.”
He said the CoE was also working with Paria, LMCS and the Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA) to see how possible it was to obtain the actual habitat the men were working in which now lies on the sea floor.
The site visit began with persons being met at the Gasparillo entrance to the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery by Paria security who escorted them to the staff club. There, all individuals changed into personal protection equipment (PPE) provided by Paria and were briefed on safety procedures and the itinerary for the day. Visitor passes were issued and signatures taken.
At that meeting, Paria officials insisted that only one person – the CoE’ s photographer be allowed to use a cellular phone during the site visit due to safety reasons.
Permission was granted to take written notes.
Paria’s Operations Teams Supervisor Nicholas Brown spearheaded the site visit.
Boarding an air-conditioned green band maxi, with free wifi and playing soft Christmas music, the 15-member entourage traversed by well-maintained golf courses and the refinery’s pond.
Paria officials led the way in other vehicles. An ambulance was also present during the land aspect of the journey.
Leaving that compound, the group exited at the Pointe-a-Pierre end and proceeded towards Paria’s head office entrance located on the western end of the refinery.
Passing by old and new structures including abandoned buildings receiving a lot of attention from Paria workers and manoeuvring over pot-holed roads, the maxi first stopped at the offshore services dock where LMCS barge – the Levathian was berthed.
That was the barge Fyzal Kurban, Kazim Ali Jr, Rishi Nagassar and Yusuf Henry were all working from before they were sucked into the pipeline located at Berth 6 on February 25, 2022.
The commissioners asked to go on the barge but Paria officials said that permission was needed from LMCS.
Counsel to LMCS, Kamini Persaud-Maraj said then, she can make the request of LMCS at the next available communication stop.
LMCS, since the tragedy, has been mandated by OSHA to stop all of its operations.
Other equipment by LMCS was also present in the vicinity.
Following that stop, the entourage then proceeded to the Customs Area Check Point, where Persaud-Maraj requested permission from LMCS to go onto the barge.
Returning to the maxi, she said, “I have done what I needed to do.”
Going through the port, and proceeding parallel to large pipelines, Lynch asked about the diameter of the pipelines to which he was told, they were 48-inch pipelines.
Heaps of yellow sulphur in the open were also observed.
Petrotrin, before its closure, had stopped exporting sulphur- a byproduct of crude oil, the media was informed.
Arriving at the Lube Oil Jetty, the group members were outfitted with life jackets and spilt into two with the commissioners embarking on the first Paria security vessel, the Stingray and the second group boarding another security vessel, the Reef Shark.
Raincoats were also provided but not needed as the midday sun shone brightly.
After a few minutes, the vessels arrived at Berth 6.
No-one was allowed to leave the vessel.
The commissioners were able to get a close-up view of the actual 30-inch pipeline from the surface level where the men died.
Remaining at that location for about 15 minutes, the vessels then proceeded to get a close-up view of Berth 5 that is connected to Berth 6 via the pipeline.
The media were told the distance between the two berths was approximately 1,200 feet.
Afterwards, the vessels returned to the jetty and everyone disembarked. Lifejackets were returned and the group then proceeded back to the port where the immigration office and Paria’s Terminal Operations Manager Collin Piper’s office are also located.
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Tours were conducted of the conference room and Piper’s office.
Lynch asked an employee at this office if there was any configuration of the office on the day of February 25, to which the employee replied, she was not present on that day.
It was at that facility that Paria officials informed the commissioners that permission was granted for persons to go on the barge but only two would be allowed at a time.
There was another stop to accommodate the barge visit which was done by Lynch and Wilson.
The CoE’s photographer and Steve Rajkumar, a supervisor with LMCS went onto the barge after Lynch and Wilson returned.
Lynch also expressed his amazement at vultures sunning out on rusted pipelines.
Proceeding out of the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery, the group was taken to the carpark where the families of the divers had held nightly vigils, seeking to find answers about the relatives from Paria officials.
The tour ended how it began.
Paria officials held a brief discussion at the staff room and Lynch thanked them for their accommodation.
“It was very helpful,” he told them.
The enquiry continues on Thursday at Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port-of-Spain.