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Petrotrin fires six
State-owned Petrotrin yesterday fired six employees as its investigation revealed the December 17 major oil spill was caused by carelessness and negligence, not sabotage. This was disclosed by Petrotrin’s president Khalid Hassanali yesterday in a press conference at the company’s Pointe-a-Pierre location. The six fired workers were among 12 suspended with pay, pending the investigation into the spill near the Pointe-a-Pierre port, which resulted in 7,000 barrels of fuel oil flowing into the Gulf of Paria.
The fired workers included two shift team leaders who were in charge, a port operations co-ordinator, a dock supervisor, a shift supervisor and a foreman. Noting that the spill has affected the nation, communities and employees, Hassanali said it was caused by “negligence on their part, carelessness, as well, on their part, with consequences of which we are all aware.”
Hassanali said the investigation was completed on Friday, but it was only yesterday morning that they came to firm conclusions about culpability. The other six workers have been reinstated with immediate effect, he said. However, Hassanali said another investigation into the asset’s integrity has been launched, resulting in letters of investigation being issued to six managers.
Two aspects of culpability
Hassanali explained there were two aspects of culpability. One aspect involved the employees who were working directly on the port from 2 am to 6 am when the oil spill occurred. Another problem, he said, was the failure of the main viaduct, from which most of the oil escaped. Explaining what happened, he said: “Pumping of oil from Tank 68 through line ten to the barge began at 2.10 am. Workers at the barge complained they were not getting oil.”
By 3 am, when the oil was still not reaching the barge, he said it ought to have been absolutely clear that something was manifestly wrong. Instead of shutting down the operation, he said the pumping continued. He said they even started a second pump with a larger capacity. It was only shut off at 5.20 am. Around 6 am, security and fisherman reported seeing oil in the sea.
Hassanali said there were two lines leading from line ten: one to the barge, and another one—the main viaduct—used to load oil on a tanker; but there was no tanker at that time. The line, however, was not closed off, which resulted in 6,400 barrels of oil flowing through the viaduct into the sea. Although preliminary investigations suggest that maintenance was done on the viaduct line, he said it is “not absolutely clear” how that line failed.
He said management has to be investigated because maintenance and inspection fall within its responsibility. Initially, he said all agencies involved concluded 200 barrels of oil had gone into the sea on December 17. Hassanali said it was not until late that day that they discovered 7,000 barrels were unaccounted for. He said the oil went unnoticed because it may have travelled below the sea’s surface.
Kamaludin Khan, vice president exploration and production, said thus far 4,200 barrels of oil have been recovered. He said clean-up operations have been completed and Petrotrin clean-up crews have moved out of the area. In addition, he said $5 million in compensation has been paid to fishermen.