T&T Coast Guard lieutenant Edric Hargreaves has denied they prevented any rescue attempts on February 25, when four LMCS divers were trapped inside a pipeline at Paria Fuel in Pointe-a-Pierre.
Hargreaves said so in his sworn statement to the Commission of Enquiry set up to investigate the accident, which cost Yusuf Henry, Fyzal Kurban, Kazim Ali Junior and Rishi Nagassar their lives.
Hargreaves submitted a ten-page statement to the commission on August 15.
He said the T&T Defence Force was informed of the accident shortly after 4 pm on February 25.
“At approximately 8.43 pm, I arrived at Paria’s Berth No. Six (6) with ten (10) members of the TTCG Diving Department,” Hargreaves said.
He said the 10 officers were divided into two teams.
There, Hargreaves met Paria’s team lead engineer for operations Catherine Balkissoon.
“She appraised me of the incident and identified her team members involved in the recovery operation. She also identified other persons who possessed first-hand information about the incident, including Mr Michael Kurban, the son of one of the missing divers,” Hargreaves said.
He said Kurban told him Christopher Boodram, the lone survivor, had been rescued and he (Kurban) was standing by to rescue the four remaining divers.
Hargreaves said the senior divers on his team did an assessment, recommending to him that no “scuba” attempt should be made.
“This was because the space in question provided no room for manoeuvrability; we possessed inappropriate equipment; the cause of the incident was still unconfirmed; and there was still hazardous material contained within the pipeline. These all posed serious health and safety challenges which could not be ignored,” Hargreaves said.
Hargreaves said he explained this to Balkissoon and advised that based on the Coast Guard’s assessment, commercial diving equipment would be needed to rescue the men.
He said Balkissoon sought assistance from commercial vessels and the Coast Guard officers stood down. He said only he and the senior diving officers remained on the platform, ready to assist if necessary.
Several hours later, at 1.10 am, Hargreaves said all operations on the platform stopped.
“I approached Ms Balkissoon enquiring from her what Paria’s next step in the process was. Ms Balkissoon indicated that she needed to engage in consultations with her supervisors, and if any further assistance is required from the TTCG dive team, I would be notified. Ms Balkissoon expressed her gratitude to the TTCG Diving Department and indicated that our presence was no longer required, as the aforementioned consultation was going to take place,” Hargreaves said.
At the end of his statement, Hargreaves addressed reports that armed Coast Guard officers prevented LMCS employees and other divers who volunteered to dive into the pipe on February 25 from trying to rescue the men.
In the Witness Statement Bundle Final, after point 18, Hargreaves’ statement moves to point 20, where he reveals who gave the orders to prevent a rescue.
“As far as I am aware, the decision to prevent persons from attempting a rescue was made by Paria personnel, and not by either myself, any member of the TTDF Diving Department or by any member of the TTDF. Neither I, any member of the TTCG Diving Department or any member of the TTDF had the requisite authority to do so. The decision by Paria, however, was based on the assessment by the TTCG Diving Department that an attempt at a rescue can have severe health and safety implications as stated in paragraphs 9 and 10 above,” Hargreaves said.
Guardian Media reached out to the commission’s secretariat, Sarah Sinanan, seeking clarification on whether aspects of Hargreaves testimony were missing. She confirmed this, saying efforts to get a complete statement had so far been unsuccessful.
Paria’s terminal operations manager Collin Piper, who was in the forefront while the tragedy was unfolding, also submitted a statement to the commission. He was Paria’s incident commander.
His statements on the Coast Guard’s involvement differ from Hargreaves’.
Piper said around 4.45 pm, he was told Hargreaves had arrived and was searching around Berth 6.
He said at that time, he was told by Paria personnel on the platform that Hargreaves said he had not received enough information and did not bring the appropriate diving equipment.
Piper said at around 6.10 pm, after Boodram was rescued and had told all around that the other divers were stuck in the pipe, he was told the Coast Guard declined to enter the pipe.
At this point, Piper said he was told LMCS divers were going into the pipe to try to rescue the trapped men.
“Based on the advice received and the relevant factors, I instructed Vishan to tell LMCS that diving into the pipeline was not allowed because it was too dangerous. I also told Visham that the TTCG indicated that the conditions in the pipeline are unknown and neither did we know the conditions in the pipeline (words to the effect),” Piper said.
He said the LMCS divers became more hostile and he asked Paria’s security lead, Sheldon Subero, to “secure the incident scene.”
“After discussions between myself and the General Manager (Mushtaq Mohammed) about the apparently volatile situation developing at the scene, he and I agreed that the TTCG should take control of the site, safeguard Paria/Kenson personnel and take control of the ongoing rescue operations. This would include preventing the LMCS divers from entering the pipeline. Mushtaq, therefore, made this request of the TTCG in my presence,” Piper said.
He said several hours later, at 11.50 pm, Hargreaves told the incident command team he Coast Guard would not be performing any rescue.
Piper did not mention the Coast Guard team leaving the area at 1 am, as Hargreaves noted in his statement.