With his son trapped inside a 30-inch pipeline with colleagues he considered his brothers, Land and Marine Contracting Service Ltd (LMCS) managing director Kazim Ali Sr said his main concern was getting them out alive.
However, Ali Sr felt Paria Fuel Trading Co Ltd did not intend a rescue, while he was confident about executing it.
He told the Commission of Enquiry (CoE) into the Paria/LMCS Diving Tragedy at the International Waterfront Centre, Port-of-Spain, on Monday the four people did not die from the incident but the lack of action that followed.
Ali Sr said he learned his son Kazim Ali Jr and employees Christopher Boodram, Fyzal Kurban, Yusuf Henry and Rishi Nagassar disappeared around 3 pm on February 25.
He arrived at the LMCS barge near Paria’s Berth No.6 in the Pointe-a-Pierre harbour about 15 minutes later and did not see any officials.
LMCS diving supervisor Andrew Farrah inspected the seabed and the hyperbaric chamber where the divers worked.
He said when Farrah told him that he had not found the contents, like bolts and spanners on the seabed, they assumed everything got sucked into the pipeline, including the divers. He said he communicated this to Paria.
Ali Sr said they believed that if the men were alive, they had an hour to live if they all relied on one scuba tank each. Before Boodram escaped the line, he did not consider there were air pockets, he said.
In a previous hearing, Paria’s technical and maintenance manager Michael Wei said they instructed LMCS that further diving into the pipeline was prohibited because it was unsafe. Paria wanted to assess the conditions in the line before attempting a rescue, fearing another Delta P event would occur.
LMCS attorney Kamini Persaud-Maraj referred the CoE to Permit to Work (PTW) 9302 issued on February 25, signed by Paria’s maintenance technician Houston Marjadsingh.
Under the heading Daily Work Suspension, Persaud-Maraj showed an annotation initialled HM at 15.22 hrs.
Ali Sr explained that this was when Paria pulled the PWT and instructed LMCS to cease all work.
He said this also prevented the execution of the LMCS rescue plan. The LMCS Emergency Response Plan (ERP) considered contingencies for the vessel, hyperbaric chamber and an underwater emergency.
Ali Sr agreed that it did not identify a rescue in a pipeline.
Paria previously made it clear that LMCS was responsible for responding to a crisis.
Seamen and Waterfront Workers’ Trade Union representative, attorney Hosein Shah, referred to the ERP, which stated that in any emergency in the hyperbaric chamber, assistance would come from the additional divers on site.
Ali Sr agreed that LMCS had emergency assistance, but Paria and the Coast Guard eventually prevented the company from executing its plan.
While Paria feared a Delta P event could reoccur, Ali Sr said this was possible with external forces in the line. However, he said the condition in the pipeline stabilised and it was isolated, so no one could switch on a pump elsewhere.
While LMCS did not consider the location of the inflatable plug on February 25, he said once the pressure equalised in the line, there was no flow in or outside.
When the question of Delta P emerged the following day, Ali Sr proposed to fill the riser at Berth No.5 with equivalent liquid to Berth No.6 to stabilise the line. At this stage, he realised the plug was in the pipe.
CoE chairman Jerome Lynch KC asked if the fact that Boodram escaped the pipe alleviated the prospect of another Delta P event occurring. Ali said it would have, because Boodram would have passed through a pressurised bubble and there was information that four divers were together.
Shah also referred to the LMCS Site Safety Plan submitted to and approved by Paria. Under the heading Diving Operations, it stated that standby divers must be present and suited up to render assistance throughout the dive. Ali Sr agreed this was in place, which included Farrah, a commercial diver trained in pipeline operations.
Additional divers arrived at different times with equipment to travel 300 feet into the pipeline.
Ali Sr said footage from a boroscope inserted into the pipeline showed a scuba tank at the elbow 10 feet away from the riser at Berth No.6. Footage from a crawler showed the same tank 200 feet into the pipeline. He said he knew it was the same tank because of the marking.
“One of the experts said the reason he was not going to dive, apart from being told by Paria that it was a recovery, was because there was a blockage 150 ft into the pipe. It was the wrong information. This is what led people to say no, we cannot do it.”
He said they used this information to conclude there was no air pocket.
Lynch was also not persuaded by this observation made by several people because Boodram managed to pass it to get out.
“I cannot see how it was a problem for anyone to get in,” Lynch said.
The Association of Diving Contractors International Inc report found that the divers should have been tethered in the chamber with a surface supply air.
Ali Sr saw advantages and disadvantages regarding the specific job.
He agreed with Boodram that tethering could strangle a diver while being sucked into the line and tangle with each other.
However, providing the divers survived entry into the pipeline, there might have been a better chance of drawing them out. It would also provide oxygen to them in the line.
Under questioning, he told Lynch that tethering would have possibly been better and he would now use it. However, he said moving forward, the main objective would be to ensure there was no Delta P hazard.