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Petrotrin acts on oil spill report: Workers suspended

Tuesday, January 7, 2014
Tiger Tank Trinidad Unlimited workers conduct clean-up operations at Coffee Beach, La Brea. PHOTO: RISHI RAGOONATH

Several Petrotrin employees have been suspended in connection with their involvement in the first oil spill on December 17 near the company’s Pointe-a-Pierre port. Corporate communications manager Gillian Friday confirmed that during a press conference at Petrotrin’s Learning Resource Centre, Pointe-a-Pierre, yesterday. There have been a total of 11 oil spills over the past three weeks, adversely affecting residents and the environment along the southwestern peninsula. The company has claimed that some of the spills were acts of sabotage. Responding to a question on reports that eight employees were either suspended or fired in connection with the oil spills, Friday said several workers were suspended yesterday afternoon, but she could not say how many.


However, she said, those workers were on duty at the port and marine section in Pointe-a-Pierre when the first oil spill took place. “I can’t give you numbers because it is ongoing but they were working in the area of  the port and marine at Pointe-a-Pierre, loading and receiving fuel onto the barge.” However, senior manager, marketing and trading Errol Baldeo said so far their investigations had not unearthed any evidence of sabotage regarding the first spill. Asked then on what grounds the workers were suspended, he explained that there was a process to follow. “Action may be taken to suspend persons who may have been on duty at the time, so that there is no chance that information can be interfered with. The other form of suspension is if someone is found culpable but that is at the end of an investigation,” Baldeo said. Friday made it clear that the workers were not suspended because they were found liable but to facilitate the investigation.


Meanwhile, Petrotrin has not yet identified the source or sources of the spills. Stephen Awah, senior manager, production operations, said so far 2,000 barrels of oil had been collected during clean up operations along the southwestern peninsula. In an immediate response yesterday, Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union president general Ancel Roget said the suspended workers were being used as scapegoats. In a telephone interview, he said he did not have the full details on the matter. The T&T Guardian was also given a figure of six employees, but while Roget could not confirm that, he said he understood  “lower level” employees were suspended. He added: “It is the union position that the company is still protecting those persons in higher management that are responsible. If anybody is to be suspended it has to be the superintendents and those persons in charge of the ports. “All the reports and recommendations suggest that the lines ought to have been changed out. Those employees are not in charge of budgeting and changing out lines, those in management are responsible for that. “They are just scapegoats to cover their (management) own slack inefficiency at the level of management. We await with bated breath to see when they will begin to suspend the right persons.” He said the company was trying to protect management.


Protests affect clean-up
Friday also yesterday appealed to La Brea residents and fishermen not to engage in protest action. She said a recent three-day protest action by residents had caused a setback in clean-up operations in the area. Friday appealed to residents to have dialogue with Petrotrin instead of protesting. Awah said work along beaches in Cedros had been completed and clean-up operations in La Brea was about 80 per cent complete. Describing the situation as a crisis, Friday said it was a national problem and Petrotrin’s response team was on the ground working 24/7. She said the team had to be congratulated for the work it was doing. Responding to reports that residents were unable to send their children to school yesterday because some were ill and their parents were unable to earn a living over the past two weeks, Friday said last Friday the company had given out schoolbags, lunch bags, schoolbooks and snacks to 100 children. She said a medical team was also stationed at the community centre and residents could also visit Petrotrin’s medical facility. Told that residents claimed they were being turned away at the medical facility, Awah said he also received that report and an investigation has been launched. Thus far, Friday said, over 115 residents had been hired to assist in clean-up operations.  In addition, she said the company had signed off on compensation for some fisherfolk, while negotiations were ongoing for others. Regarding the impact on the Otaheite mangrove and the wildlife, Awah said the company was working with Environmental Management Authority (EMA) on a comprehensive plan in terms of rehabilitation. 


Report incorrect 

A preliminary report following an investigation commissioned by state-owned Petrotrin, which stated that a failed pipeline was behind the December 17 oil leak at Pointe-a-Pierre, as it may not have undergone major inspections for over 17 years, is erroneous, Friday also said yesterday. The report, which was conducted by a panel of Petrotrin employees, was submitted to Petrotrin officials on December 24 and one of its conclusions was that poor maintenence protocol may have led to the deterioration of the line. But commenting on the conclusion in respect of the pipeline yesterday, Friday said “that statement was inaccurate.” Baldeo said the line in question, #10, was inspected in 2006 and 2009 and additional work was done in 2011 and 2013. “In fact, we do regular supervisory work on those lines to check those lines so that information is incorrect.” Friday said the purpose of the investigation was to gather evidence, adding the report was privileged and confidential.


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