Paria denies blocking rescue of five divers

The Paria Fuel Trading Company (Paria) has hit back at the “unfortunate” press release issued by LMCS Limited on the deaths of Yusuf Henry, Fazal Kurban, Rishi Nagassar and Kazim Ali Jr.

In a statement on Monday evening, Paria said the majority of what has been said with respect to its role in the men’s demise is inaccurate and unjust.

The company said while it did not find it appropriate to discuss the issue publicly, it has opted to do so to provide clarity. Paria’s reaction comes on the heels of LMCS claiming that it (Paria) prevented the rescue of the four men who died in the operation.

However, Paria said this was not the case as LMCS supposedly contributed to a press release on February 27 which read: “We have been working closely with Paria Fuel Trading Company Ltd (Paria) from the beginning of the incident to reach our divers. The Paria team has been fully supportive throughout this process and continues to provide all its resources to support our efforts, including people, capability and equipment.”

According to the state-owned company, Since June 2021, LMCS has been engaged in the maintenance of the 30-inch pipeline located at No 36 Sealine Riser on Berth No 6 at the Paria facility.

Prior to the commencement of this project, the said pipeline had been inactive – since even before Paria commenced operations in December 2018 – and would remain dormant until the project was completed.

“It is, therefore, important to note that there is no pipe connection mechanism, machinery, or equipment whatsoever connected to the section of pipeline under repair, so nothing could have been switched on or activated by Paria, to change the condition of the pipeline while the project was being undertaken by LMCS,” it said.

Paria added that the incident occurred at around 2:45pm on February 25 while five divers were working in LMCS’ hyperbaric chamber. The men were being monitored by LMCS employees on a nearby barge when a splash was observed within the chamber and video from the cameras subsequently stopped operating.

Upon being notified of the incident by LMCS, Paria explained that it immediately activated its Incident Management

Paria said it contacted the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard, the Trinidad and Tobago Fire Service, Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSH) and the South West Regional Health Authority. Dive support operators – Mitchell’s Professional Diving Services Company Limited and Offshore Technology Solution Limited – were also contacted. Further, assistance was sought from Eastern Divers Company Limited.

The external service providers supposedly arrived at various times on Friday evening to assist with the rescue effort. The Commercial Diver Operations Supervisor from Heritage Petroleum Company Limited was also on-site to support the Incident Command Team.

Paria said it was informed by the owner of LMCS, Kazim Ali, that his company would notify the families of its
five employees.

It also noted that LMCS started the rescue operation with assistance from Paria.

“As part of its emergency response plan, LMCS launched a search and rescue operation. An LMCS employee entered the hyperbaric chamber and advised that there was no sign of the divers or the dive cylinders. Paria’s marine security supported the search with vessels, focused on the waters surrounding both the LMCS hyperbaric chamber and the pipeline.”

According to Paria, three hours after the start of the rescue operation, sounds were reportedly heard from inside the pipeline.

One of the men, Christopher Boodram, was found in scuba gear as he surfaced at the top of the pipeline within LMCS’s hyperbaric chamber. He was pulled out from the top of the pipeline by Michael Kurban – a diver who was assisting LMCS in its operations. Boodram was stabilized and rushed to the hospital for treatment.

Paria’s said its team was informed of Boodram’s rescue at 5:45pm and was also told that Kurban entered the pipeline on more than one occasion to locate other divers. However, he was only able to retrieve some diving equipment.

“Mr Kurban later contemplated other entries which would have involved him proceeding further into the pipeline. It was determined by Paria – and supported by the Coast Guard, the OSH Agency, and external experts – that it was too dangerous for anyone to proceed further into the pipeline without posing significant risk to life.”

Paria said that the vertical drop from the hyperbaric chamber to the seabed is approximately 60 feet within a 30-inch diameter pipe.

Footage from a remotely operated camera revealed that at approximately 80 feet, tanks were wedged against the wall of the said pipeline as it ran along the seabed creating an obstruction. This prevented the remote camera from proceeding any further and locating any of the divers.

Besides, with regard to informing the families that the exercise had moved from a rescue to a recovery operation, Paria said this was done by management on February 26, 2022, between 6pm to 9pm.

“Given the complexities and sensitivities associated with this incident, continued misinformation, speculation and wild allegations only serve to further increase the trauma and hurt of all of those involved, which includes the grieving families and loved ones of those who have lost their lives, along with those who were involved in the rescue and recovery efforts.”

Last week Monday, the Minister of Energy and Energy Industries, Stuart Young, announced that there would
be an independent investigation into this incident to ascertain the facts and the root cause of the incident.

“Certainly, Paria will provide any and all of the relevant details, documentation and recordings, and participate fully in the process. We ask that we all await the outcome of the investigations before arriving at any further conclusions.”

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