Energy Minister Stuart Young has admitted that Paria Fuel Trading Company Limited failed to communicate properly with both the families of the lost divers and the rest of the population.
Young hosted a virtual press briefing yesterday and said that while he directed Paria to “communicate” with both groups, that did not happen.
He announced that the Government is putting together an expert panel to independently investigate what happened on that day.
“I had directed and asked that there be communication with the families and also the population because the population was concerned as soon as they became aware of this incident,” Young said.
The State-owned company faced severe criticism on social media for its treatment of the grieving families, many of whom were left sitting under an open-air bus shed while waiting for updates over the weekend.
“I am going to ask that Paria, please make the necessary arrangements to bring whatever level of comfort can be brought to these family members as they go through this very devastating and tragic time in their lives waiting on the recovery of their loved ones,” Young said.
During Paria’s news conference on Sunday night to announce that the search and rescue operations ended and the company was now devising a plan to retrieve the bodies, family members learned of the update along with the rest of the country through the media.
“It is apparent that, unfortunately, on the communications side, it did not go as it should have,” Young said yesterday.
On Sunday night diver Michael Kurban, who rescued the lone survivor Christopher Boodram, spoke of the bureaucracy and rigid red tape that stymied the process of dive and rescue.
Kurban said that while divers were ready to enter the water, they were stopped by calls for permits and a supervisor shift change.
Young too hinted at some red-tape at Paria which created a communication gap between the company and the families of the missing divers.
“Again, cutting through some red tape to ask if all of the family members who were present be allowed in to meet with the general manager, one of the engineers who were there and myself. Because of course, this is important that we communicate with the families, that we listen to the families and more importantly that we tell them what was going on,” he said.
He said he gave the company the assurance that they had the approval to do what needed to be done to rescue the men.
Young also confirmed that there were other “gaps” in the way Paria handled the rescue operations.
“From where I stand and looking on, it appears that there may be gaps in the system but again it is not for speculation. I too saw what was being said by the brave diver who went in and got Mr Boodram out,” Young said referring to Kurban.
“This is why there must an independent investigation,” Young said.
The investigative panel will comprise international experts from Shell and BP and will not include any representative from the trade unions but would include an expert diver and a lawyer.
“They would collaborate to make sure that there is no duplicity of expertise in who they volunteer to this exercise,” he said.
The panel would have to evaluate what plans were put in place before the job started, what happened during the accident and what took place after at all levels. The team will also make recommendations and identify any gaps along the process line.
Young said that the dive company, LMCS, won the tender from Paria to carry out repairs on the pipeline between Berth 5 and 6 and fix the components that were leaking. The job was complete and it was on Friday when the men- Fyzal Kurban, Rishi Nagassar, Kazim Ali Jr, Yusuf Henry and Christopher Boodram- were testing the completed work that “something” happened that caused a suction on the pipeline and dragged the men into the oily pipe. Boodram, according to Young, was the rescue diver on that job.
Young said that the pipeline runs some 1,200 feet parallel to the ocean floor between Berth 5 and Berth 6 and the company used remote cameras to probe the pipe and find the men. The camera became blocked but found the diving gear stuck along the pipeline.
“I have always directed from the first time, I became aware of the tragic accident and incident, that the priority must be to find these men, that all resources and focus must be to locate and find these four divers,” he said.
“I would like the families of those men, whose pain trauma, hurt, frustration and even anger, I can only imagine, to know that from the Governments perspective we are concerned. We have been concerned and we remain concerned, we understand the distress, the pain and the emotions that have been running since this unfortunate accident and tragic incident since it happened on Friday afternoon,” Young said.