While several diving experts gathered at Paria Fuel Trading Company Ltd on February 25, none attempted to rescue the five LMCS divers who got sucked into a 30-inch diameter pipeline because the task was too risky.
Giving evidence at the Commissioner of Enquiry (CoE) into the Paria/LMCS Diving Tragedy yesterday, Paria’s Technical and Maintenance Manager Michael Wei said some 14 hours after Christopher Boodram emerged from Sealine 36, the company had still been considering rescuing the men.
Boodram is the lone survivor of the accident, which occurred as the divers were doing subsea maintenance work on the pipeline at Berth 6 in the Pointe-a-Pierre harbour.
While Boodram was removing an inflatable plug with his colleagues Fyzal Kurban, Yusuf Henry, Kazim Ali Jr and Rishi Nagassar, a Delta P incident occurred, sucking them into the pipeline.
Yesterday, Wei said Paria relied on the expertise of LMCS, and it was the contractor’s responsibility to have an emergency response plan to rescue divers in case of an incident.
He said Paria supported and called Hull Support Services Ltd, Offshore Technology Solutions Ltd, Mitchell’s Professional Diving Services and the T&T Coast Guard (TTCG).
However, Paria could not persuade any of the parties who responded to enter the pipe, noting they believed it was too risky a job to undertake.
He said Eastern Divers Company, which was on-site, also felt it was no longer a matter of a rescue effort but a recovery of bodies.
Wei was responsible for logistics in Paria’s Incident Management Team (IMT), which was convened after the divers went missing.
He stuck to his statement to the CoE that “despite the IMT’s effort, the TTCG, Hull Support Services Ltd, Mitchell’s Divers and OTSL could not be persuaded to enter the pipeline to conduct any rescue efforts. He said all four parties explained to Paria officials that there would be a significant risk to their own divers in attempting to rescue the divers by entering the pipeline.
However, the IMT continued to make efforts to get a diver to attempt the rescue of the missing divers, to collect and share information and to make preparatory steps to facilitate requests by LMCS.
CoE counsel Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj SC asked Wei if he was interested in finding out if a diver could go down in the pipeline for a rescue.
Wei said the IMT did not know the quantity of oil in the line and the location of the divers. Sending a rescue diver without the information would risk another life, he pointed out.
“A proper risk assessment should be conducted before you send someone into the line, meaning that you need to know the conditions inside the line. You need to know if there are obstructions and if there are hazards and what hazards are in the line. To send someone inside that line without knowing that would be reckless,” Wei said.
At around 10.50 pm on February 25, the first day of the accident, the IMT called for a crawler to enter the pipeline to establish the conditions.
Wei said they were unaware of what caused the incident and whether there was another Delta P hazard in the line. He said Paria used a crawler from Berth 6, which encountered an oxygen tank and from Berth 5, where the oil was too thick at the bottom of the pipe.
The incident occurred around 2.45 pm, with Boodram emerging at 6 pm. The crawler entered Sealine 36 at 5 am the following day.
Wei said Paria got two pumps from Inland and Offshore Contractors Ltd, as it contemplated draining the line for a dry rescue. However, this also posed a risk.
Family attorney grills Wei
Wei came under fire from attorney Prakash Ramadhar, who represents the families of Fyzal Kurban and Rishi Nagassar.
It was an examination that both CoE chairman Jerome Lynch and Paria attorney Jason Mootoo associated with drama.
As a result of heavy grilling, Lynch had to intervene concerning Ramadhar’s “enthusiasm” on a few occasions, asking that he allow Wei to answer the questions.
Ramadhar seemed befuddled when Wei rated Paria’s IMT response as excellent, given that four divers eventually died.
Wei said the highest priority when responding to an incident was stabilising the site to ensure the hazard no longer exists and poses a danger to others and that further actions do not put other lives at risk.
Ramadhar countered, asking Wei if he knew that firefighters risked their lives daily to rescue people.
“The country has raged for what you all did,” Ramadhar said.
It was at this point that Lynch asked Ramadhar to contain himself.
Wei said this was because firefighters are trained and equipped with gear to conduct those rescued. He said divers required equipment based on the conditions in the line.
While LMCS divers claimed the Coast Guard eventually prevented them from entering the pipe, Wei said it did not stop them from diving. He said LMCS only presented a diver to enter the pipeline on Sunday (February 27).
Wei also denied that LMCS provided a rescue plan to the IMT site coordinator Catherine Balkissoon before then. However, he admitted to LMCS attorney Kamini Persaud-Maraj that he knew Andrew Farrah and Dexter Guerra were divers and were at the site.
Wei stated Farrah was the dive supervisor at the time and did not know whether Guerra could dive.
Wei also argued that LMCS should not have removed the migration chamber from the pipe, which led to the Delta P incident. He said LMCS was supposed to remove the habitat first and remove the plugs from above.
Maharaj showed Wei the Permit-to-Work Paria issued to LMCS for February 25. Wei agreed it listed the tasks but disagreed that the approved method statement attached to the PWT showed the order. Wei said the sequence of work relied on existing conditions on a particular day.
The session ended around 6 pm, as Lynch did not want to adjourn Wei’s testimony.
The CoE will resume on December 5.