For the first time since the Paria diving tragedy, which resulted in the deaths of four LMCS divers, WhatsApp messages between Paria and Heritage officials from the incident now show how the tragic incident was being handled behind the scenes.
The messages form part of the Supplemental Core Bundle Final document which was published to the website of the Commission of Enquiry (CoE) set up to investigate the incident.
The CoE started on Monday and so far, the Commissioners, led by King’s Counsel Jerome Lynch have heard from Christopher Boodram, the lone survivor of the February 25 incident.
His colleagues, Yusuf Henry, Kazim Ali Junior, Rishi Nagassar and Fyzal Kurban, died inside the 30-inch pipeline the five were sucked into while doing underwater subsea maintenance work on Paria’s Berth 6 in Pointe-a-Pierre on the day in question.
In the submission made to the CoE, screenshots of messages sent to a WhatsApp group titled “Temp Paria Incident” documented how the incident was handled by the company.
It contains several updates on the incident, accompanied by dates and times.
From the document, Guardian Media observed messages sent from contacts identified as executive managers at Heritage Petroleum, including COO Patricia King, CEO Arlene Chow, corporate communications manager Arlene Gorin-George, business development leader James Walker, HSSE leader Wendell Seecharan, midstream leader Anil Singh and operations technology manager Shamael Ali.
There were several other names in the chat, including Osei Fleming Holder, Curtis De Vries and Rawle Arneaud.
Many of the messages included abbreviations, with ROV, which according to Google stands for Remotely Operated Vehicle, which is used in the oil and gas industry.
In the first message on February 25, Walker writes “Providing an update 5.37 pm…”
Walker states Chow was speaking to Shell about their ROV and details Chow’s efforts to get an ROV from other companies in the industry.
He also details efforts to get divers to the scene, stating a decision was made to mobilise eight divers, two vessels, two emergency medical technicians (EMTs), underwater cameras and underwater lights.
In another update at 6.27 pm, Walker said one man had been recovered.
“Suspect the others are lodged in the pipeline. LMCS wants to get into pipeline, Coast Guard does not have the resources on the ground at the time. Coast Guard left Staubles Bay. Rescue plan to be put in place,” Walker wrote.
He also provides updates on the arrival of the two diving teams and the ROVs.
In another update at 7.37 pm under the heading “Medical,” Walker wrote, “Ambulance and EMTs- Four ambulances on site, two from TTFS and two from GMR. The Santa Flora ambulance will arrive in twenty minutes with two EMTs…”
He adds, “Hospital - San Fernando Hospital informed.”
Walker also references a holding statement, writing, “Drafted by Paria and a separate from Heritage. Heritage draft will replace Paria draft.”
Immediately afterwards, King responds to an earlier message she sent, which said, “Gulfstream 30 mins away. Coming fully equipped with lights, compressed air etc,” with “OTSL Gulfstream Eagle Vessel 30mins away.”
Several of the messages from the thread appear to have been omitted from the evidence submitted to the CoE, as the next message comes from Fleming Holder at 12.53 am.
At 1.01 am on February 26, Walker gives another update, providing notes from calls made shortly before midnight on February 25.
“Hummingbird- Anthony Viera. 90 degree elbow. If crawler cannot work, a rescue team cannot get in. Crawler weights 80lbs and has good traction, LED lights if they can on to it. Tether on the crawler allows to pull out, manually.”
At 12.20 am, Walker notes that Andy Johnson, of Eastern Divers, was willing to enter the pipe but wrote, “Has no cameras.”
Walker then says there would be a three-pronged approach.
“ALNG vertical + Hummingbird horizontal with crawler + ROV on outside. Then Eastern Divers for the manned rescue.”
At 12.40 am, Walker said the expected arrival time of the Eastern Divers was 90 minutes.
“Briefed Andy that there is a breathing tank lodged in the pipe,” Walker continued.
Fifteen minutes later, he references Paria’s general manager, Mushtaq Mohammed.
“Mushtaq update- explained that the camera went 30ft on the horizontal before it met the stuck tank. Next steps is to get the camera past the tank. Hummingbird camera when it arrives more likely to get past the tank.”
He then said a diver would enter the pipeline to visually inspect.
“When the diver goes to check, us (*sic) the tank to make noise for the guys to hear if they’re conscious,” Walker wrote.
In an update from Fleming Holder, Walker said there was a “non-intrusive” dive being planned. He said while an ROV had arrived, there was no manual or “knowledgeable operator.”
Walker goes on to log communication and messages, including a plan to “open Berth 5” and send in a crawler.
In an update labelled “26/2 0254,” Walker writes, “Two working drafts for press releases.”
Focus on managing info leaks
The next series of messages are time stamped at 7.29 am.
Chow writes, “How did they get it,” then “In” then “Eastern Divers stood down??”
Arneaud responds, “They formed a sort of vigil. Apparently, they came in to support the rescue effort when the event occurred and remained onsite.”
King responds, “They are going to start taking pics n posting. This needs to be managed asap.”
Chow then chimes in again, suggesting the group, who remain unidentified, be moved to an office.
“Give them a good conference room good *sic and drink for the,” Chow’s next message reads.
Again, messages seem to be missing from the conversation thread, as the next page in the evidence begins with De Vries responding to a message from King to call to the gate, saying the information was sent but the officers did not pass it along to their relief.
Chow responds, “Tell him get w the plan.”
In his response, De Vries said, “Just called they should have clearance…again.”
Gorin-George then updates the group about a media release being delayed as “Newman” wanted to include information on LMCS and how they were awarded the contract for the work.
In another update, Walker documents “to do’s for BST 26.2 0800.”
This list includes checking Berth 6 for “business continuity,” EAP for Heritage staff, “Plan Safety Standdown 830-900 am Monday,” media releases, a press conference planned for later in the day and plans to have a Port-of-Spain office cleaned.
At 9.50 am, Singh writes, “Mushtaq and Collin Piper are the 2 main Paria point persons.”
In three messages at 9.57 am, Seecharan reveals he has been informed that Boodram tested positive for COVID-19.
In his testimony at the CoE yesterday, Boodram denied having COVID and said his repeated requests to be placed in a decompression chamber were ignored.
“He is presently at the SFG hospital and therefore we need medical advise to get him to HULL Support Facility at Labidco to undergo depress in thr Hyperbaric Chamber,” Seecharan wrote.
At 10.04 am, Gorin-George said, “A space is now identified for the families. Nerissa is now working to move them. A Paria employee is having what she terms a breakdown.”
She later writes, “And one family member, Kazim from LMCS is also very agitated…”
Kazim Ali Snr, the owner of LMCS, lost his son, Kazim Ali Jr, in the incident.
The rest of the message cannot be seen.
The next message came from Singh, asking Gorin-George where the relatives of the missing men were being kept.
While the tragedy was unfolding, there were numerous complaints from the relatives of the missing men that they were not receiving information from Paria and they were being made to wait at the company’s gates.
In response to Singh’s message, Gorin-George responds, “Humming Bird Suite.”
At 10.20 am, Ali sends several messages to the group, documenting the arrival of the Lorena B bunker vessel.
“Parallel... Rescue team and scaffolding to be set up at both berths,” Ali wrote.
He follows his messages with two diagrams of the pipeline connecting Berths 5 and 6.
At 10.23 am, De Vries wrote, “Wives and girlfriends are mustered in the car park outside the compound at Plein Palais gate.”
Chow instructs, “We need to get them in a room.”
Several messages seem to be omitted at this point as well, as the next message comes from Seecharan stating doctors had gotten clearance to release Boodram from the San Fernando General Hospital.
At 11.01 am, Seecharan said two doctors attending to Boodram had advised he no longer needed to be placed in a decompression chamber.
At 11.13 am, Chow writes, “The eastern divers need a conference call with the ops guys. He is saying the line needs to be flushed before they can go in.”
King responds, “So please ensure Mushtaq n the Minister are aware of this extra sensitive issue.”
Arneaud joins the conversation after King advises Chow to let the divers from Eastern contact him.
“The plan is to reconnect with Eastern once the line is pumped out and the crawler goes back in to give us visuals and more information.”
Lifting incident setback
At 11.18 am, Gorin-George notes that media personnel and family were on site, “making demands.”
At 12.14 am on February 27, Fleming Holder writes, “Cutting of the braces on the hyperbaric chamber has started.”
Almost three hours later, he reports that the lifting team was experiencing difficulties in removing the chamber.
At 3.42 am, he writes, “Good morning lifting incident occurred at 3.39 am.”
Fleming Holder accompanies his messages with several photos and then writes, “Wire rope burst.”
He notes there were no injuries in the incident.
Chow responds “Lord. Lifting rope,” at 3.46 am.
He responds, labelling the incident as a setback and saying a crane barge was required.
“Divers required to inspect any damages to the riser.”
At 4.12 am, King chimes in, saying, “This shows the weights n rating of the rope wasn’t checked. Need to fully stop.”
Fleming Holder again confirms that there were no injuries and advises that work permits have been pulled.
King responds, “We hv to stop this rushing as the teams aren’t checking work properly.”
The last message in the chain presented to the Commission comes from Chow at 4.30 am.
“Did it impact the riser?” she writes in response to messages from Fleming Holder.
Her message was the last of 26 pages of screenshots presented to the Commission.