What is the purpose of the Paria commission of enquiry (CoE) currently in progress? I believe it was formed to examine and ascertain the cause of the accident that led to the deaths of four divers and to examine the prevailing circumstances that led to a decision by Paria Fuel Trading Co Ltd to abort any rescue attempts and was this decision justified.
There must be impartiality by the commission in its methodology of gathering the facts and assessing the impact it has on the incident for this enquiry to be meaningful and stand scrutiny.
I have listened on the radio and looked at the enquiry on TV and in my view the chairman of the CoE, Jerome Lynch, seems to have a preconceived notion of what the response by Paria should have been. His unwarranted “attack” on Catherine Balkissoon that caused her to cry was at the very least inappropriate and suggests to me that he believes Paria should have sent in rescue divers who were willing to enter the pipeline.
To my mind the enquiry should have been stopped at that point and another chairman chosen. If the “attack” on Balkissoon had occurred in the courts, I am sure Prakash Ramadhar, great attorney that he is, would have strongly objected and called for a mistrial. That faux pas would definitely not have gone unchallenged by Ramesh Maharaj.
Let us examine the opinion that Paria should have allowed divers who were willing to enter the pipeline.
1. The pipe is only 30 inches in diameter, so movement is restricted, especially with a scuba tank on the back of the diver.
2. The pipe internals were dark – visibility was impaired.
3. Was there any danger in the pipeline that could put the rescue divers’ life at risk? This was unknown.
4. What was the physical conditions of the divers, and could they withstand the adverse conditions they might encounter as they attempted to navigate a quarter mile of pipeline?
5. What experience did they have of diving into a pipeline – a very dangerous confined space?
6. Where exactly were the trapped divers located? What contingency plans were in place to deal with any unforeseen emergency that may have arisen?
We must not forget that Paria has the responsibility to protect the lives of everyone in its employ. Now let’s assume that the rescue divers were allowed to enter the pipeline and other lives were lost, who would have assumed responsibility for this?
The response of the families of those divers would most likely be, “Why did they allow more divers to go into the pipe when they knew it was unsafe. Jail them!”
And the political fallout would have been horrendous with the Opposition, trade unions and the emotional public calling for heads to roll and lawyers would be queuing up to represent the families’ interest and quite possibly criminal negligence charges would have been brought against the management of Paria.
Paria, to my mind, is in a catch-22 situation. Damn if you do and damn if you don’t. Paria’s decision was not an easy one to make and I dare say it was not lightly made.
I empathise with the families who have lost their loved ones. Words of consolation can never be enough. I hope that Paria would properly compensate the affected families.