Twenty-one months after LMCS divers Fyzal Kurban, Kazim Ali Jr, Yusuf Henry and Rishi Nagassar died tragically inside a Paria Fuel Trading Company pipeline, the Commission of Enquiry (CoE) has concluded its report on the incident.
However, whether the report’s contents are made available to the public and the victims’ families is up to the Government.
Chairman of the CoE, Jerome Lynch, KC, announced that he would hand over the 380-page final report to President Christine Kangaloo today.
In the Commissioner’s final sitting held virtually yesterday, Lynch said members sifted through tens of thousands of documents, video material, audio material, voluminous correspondence and transcripts of the evidence.
Kangaloo will get all these materials on a hard drive.
Despite requests for answers, Lynch said his position does not permit him to reveal anything but assured the answers about who is responsible are in the report.
“We are not at liberty to disclose this report to anyone other than the President, but it is not really for me to argue otherwise.
However, this is a public enquiry using public money involving fatalities. There can be no greater driver to make this document available to the public than those facts. I am convinced that no one wants to see this report gathering dust on some dusty shelf in the Government office somewhere. It has to see the light of day, and I am confident it will,” Lynch said.
LMCS employees Kurban, Ali Jr, Henry, Nagassar and Christopher Boodram were conducting maintenance work on Paria’s Sealine 36 pipeline at Berth No.6 in the Pointe-a-Pierre harbour on February 25, 2022.
The men removed an inflatable plug which triggered what is known as a differential pressure (also called Delta P) event that sucked them into the 30-inch line.
A badly injured Boodram crawled and swam out of the pipeline, but the others could not.
Paria blocked rescue attempts, citing the dangers involved in doing so, and flushed out the men’s bodies days later.
Lynch said yesterday that the tragedy was “no act of God” and that everyone should ensure it never recurs.
He lamented that one feature of the enquiry was that at no stage did anyone concede a single error, mishap or recognition of a failure, even with hindsight.
“We understand there is a desire not to accept liability lest that should incur financial responsibility in some civil suit at some later stage, but these men, as I said, already did not die by accident. What they and their families are left with is the posturing of the potential parties, perhaps challenging the very findings of this inquiry before they start fighting with each other, each insisting that they got nothing wrong.”
Lynch said T&T got voluntary dive standards for commercial diving in 1997, and the Bureau of Standards attempted to revise them into the 2010s.
However, it failed amidst squabbling by companies with self-serving interests.
Lynch said it remains factual that in an industry inherently dangerous in its operations, there are no compulsory standards in this country.
Meanwhile, members routinely ignore the voluntary standards like everyone in the diving tragedy.
Debunking rumours of interference in the enquiry, Lynch said they were untrue.
Lynch said he did not spend 40 years as a barrister to be cajoled by some compromised political, commercial or financial considerations. He said he got the job as the chairman because the Government wanted someone independent and untainted, and that is what it got.
“This report pulls no punches. It is our honest appraisal of the facts as we see them. There may be those who will be disappointed. There may be those who will be outraged and those who will wish to challenge it.”
While there have been rumours surrounding the cost of the enquiry, Lynch revealed that expenditure was approximately $15.5 million. Giving his perspective, Lynch said the CLICO enquiry spent $500 million; the UDECOTT enquiry, $46 million; the coup enquiry, $31 million; and the Las Alturas enquiry, $24 million.
He noted that the ongoing Solomon Hochoy Extension Highway to Point Fortin enquiry incurred $11 million in costs before and has not started.
“We have concluded this enquiry over a relatively short time. Not as short as I had wanted but a relatively short time, and we have done so within what we regard as a not unreasonable benefit of $15.5 or so million.”
Responding to a question on compensation from Nagassar’s widow, Vanessa Kussie, he said it was not in his remit.
“Nobody, leave aside any personal responsibility that anyone involved in this might feel, could fail to think that you need to be helped in a situation. As I said, common decency. Isn’t it? One might have thought some sort of help would have been given, and I am sorry that it has not been.”
Lynch said the commission observed that the victims received very little help in dealing with the mental and financial losses. He said members could not help but think the companies involved or Government could have addressed it. He said it would have been an act of kindness and human decency to have made an ex-gratia payment to the families when they needed it most without accepting any liability.
Kussie asked why the families did not get a copy of the report. However, Lynch said, “I wish it were in my gift to give it to you because I would like to do that, but it is not within my gift. That is a matter for your Government and your principal.”