By February 27, more than 36 hours after five divers got sucked into a 30-inch diameter pipeline, their employer, Land and Marine Contracting Serviced Ltd (LMCS), and Paria Fuel Trading Company, believed they were dead.
The Commission of Enquiry (CoE) into the Paria/LMCS Diving Tragedy heard that discussions to allow divers into the pipeline that day dealt with the retrieval of scuba tanks and not rescuing Kazim Ali Jr, Fyzal Kurban, Yusuf Henry and Rishi Nagassar.
During LMCS dive supervisor Andrew Farrah’s appearance at the International Waterfront Centre, Port-of-Spain, Paria’s counsel, Jason Mootoo, suggested the contractor’s attitude was that the divers were dead. However, Farrah denied this.
Mootoo referred to copies of a Method Statement, Risk Assessment and Emergency Response Plan that Farrah created, seeking Paria’s approval for divers to enter Sealine No.36 from Berth No.6 in the Pointe-a-Pierre harbour. He was adamant that the documents dealt with retrieving equipment, but not divers.
Farrah initially agreed but linked it to a rescue attempt.
Paria initially sent an underwater crawler into the pipe to assess the conditions. However, it encountered a scuba tank it could not get past.
Farrah explained that Paria’s main concern with divers entering the pipeline for a rescue was obstruction. Therefore, the company asked LMCS for a risk assessment and methodology to retrieve the tanks. Once retrieved, he said they could send the crawler further into the pipe.
CoE chairman Jerome Lynch, KC, intervened, asking Mootoo whether Paria was ready to allow divers into the pipe to retrieve bottles but not men.
“You are saying that your instructions are that this assessment was designed to allow men to go into this pipe to retrieve three bottles.”
Mootoo said LMCS repeatedly sought permission to enter the pipe because they believed the divers died and wanted to remove the tanks to retrieve the bodies humanely.
“Kazim Ali (Snr) was of that view. In fact, on the audio evidence, which is before the Commission, he says that. Paria’s position is not that they were sending men into the pipe. Paria’s position was that at all times, it was open to entertaining any risk assessment or any plan that anyone had in relation to the pipe, but was not prepared to allow anyone to go in there in a way that was unsafe. They were open to hearing all possibilities but wanted it properly documented,” Mootoo said.
Mootoo confirmed that Paria wanted a risk assessment and method statement before approving any entry in the pipeline.
Lynch asked: “Paria was prepared to entertain a diver or divers going into the pipe on Sunday to retrieve a number of bottles so that they would not interfere with the bodies that they believed were now dead, being removed from the pipe, being damaged?”
Mootoo said it was a subset of the general position that at all times, Paria was prepared to entertain people entering the pipe for various reasons, provided they could show it was safe.
Lynch asked whether Paria regarded the tank retrieval as safe, but Mootoo could not say. He said he could take instructions from his client.
Farrah confirmed his witness statement to the CoE that the purpose of the meeting was to advise Paria on LMCS’s plan and convince the company to give them at least one chance to rescue the missing divers.
“I believe they told us that we could not do a rescue because they were unsure of the conditions in the pipeline, and the only way for them to reach further past the bottles was to get them removed, so they asked us to do a dive plan to retrieve the bottles from the pipeline.”
Farrah said following the incident on February 25, LMCS had three plans to rescue divers. The first plan he devised with construction supervisor Dexter Guerra after the divers disappeared from the hyperbaric chamber. Having suspected a Delta P event pulled the men into the pipe, Farrah planned to enter the pipeline feet first, with extra diving gear and a tagline connected to him. Guerra would remain in the habitat to tender the line. Despite Mootoo outlining numerous risks associated with that plan, including oil, the confined space and no backup divers at the surface shore, Farrah said he was willing to risk his life for the men. He felt the timing was critical as the men had limited oxygen.
Plan 2 occurred between 6 pm and 6.30, after divers Corey Crawford and Ronald Ramoutar rescued Boodram from the pipeline. Conrad Beddoe was on site with commercial equipment to provide divers with communication with the surface.
Farrah said he told Paria’s acting technical lead, Catherine Balkissoon, they had commercial equipment, which included a facial mask with a breathing tube to supply the divers with surface air up to 300 feet and qualified divers willing to effect a rescue.
However, Balkissoon, Paria’s Incident Management Team site representative, said she had to contact Incident Commander Collin Piper for instructions.
Farrah said while trying to execute Plan 2, Beddoe, Ramoutar and Kurban were in the hyperbaric chamber while Crawford was at the surface.
A Coast Guard officer approached him, telling them they received instructions that diving was not permitted and rescue divers had to exit the water.
Asked by Lynch if there was ever a time that Paria allowed him to effect a rescue, Farrah said no, adding they had everything in place for the job.
Farrah agreed with Seamen and Waterfront Workers Trade Union attorney Nyree Alphonso that the best practice for work in the chamber would include commercial diving equipment, such as a harness with tethering at the surface.
Concerning the Delta P event, he told LMCS counsel Kamini Persaud-Maraj that if the men had a tagline attached while getting sucked into the pipeline, it could have tangled around their neck, resulting in further injury.