Chairman: Divers’ families can address Paria enquiry

The content originally appeared on: News Americas Now

Black Immigrant Daily News

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Paria Commission of Enquiry chairman Jerome Lynch KC. File photo/Ayanna Kinsale

PARIA Commission of Enquiry (CoE) chairman Jerome Lynch KC dismissed a request from Paria Fuel Trading Co Ltd not to allow relatives of four divers who died on its premises last year, to address the commission.

He made this ruling during an evidentiary hearing by the CoE at Tower D of the Port of Spain International Waterfront Centre on Monday.

Kazim Ali Jr, Fyzal Kurban, Yusuf Henry, Rishi Nagassar and Christopher Boodram were doing routine maintenance on a 30-inch pipeline at Berth 6, belonging to Paria Fuel Trading Co Ltd,t Pointe-a-Pierre on February 25, 2022, when they were sucked into the pipeline. Only Boodram survived.

Paria and Heritage Petroleum lead counsel Gilbert Peterson SC, objected to relatives of Ali, Kurban, Henry and Nagassar being allowed to make statements to members of the commission.

While empathising with the families of the divers, Peterson did not believe any statements made by any of them would assist the commission in its work or were permitted by the CoE’s terms of refefence.

“It is of no probitive value.”

Peterson claimed their statements could be prejudicial against Paria.

In dismissing Peterson’s request, Lynch said, “In relation to the specific terms of reference, this commission had been given, I made very clear on the very first day when we sat, when I as the chairman, introduced the issues to the enquiry that I did not regard myself in any event as being confined by them (terms of reference).”

While the commission is guided by its terms of reference, Lynch said he is prepared to hear any other facts that may help the commission to do its work.

The manner in which the relatives of the divers were treated by Paria, he continued, is information that is relevant to the commission.

Lynch ruled that three people representing some of the families would be allowed to address the commission on Monday. He said the statements they will read are “admissible and relevant to this enquiry.”

He said these people would be permitted to read their statements to the commission, would not be allowed to cast blame on any party before the enquiry and all attorneys appearing before the commission cannot question them on their statements.

“The reasons for that decision will be given tomorrow (Tuesday) morning.”

While people representing some of the other families submitted statements they wanted to read to the commission, Lynch reserved judgement on whether or not they would be allowed to do so.

Paria lead counsel Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj SC said the commission’s terms of reference allows the commission to “make any other recommendations that may be deemed necessary in the circumstances.”

He believed it would be “an abdication of the responsibility of the commission, not to allow the families of the deceased persons to say what they want to say.”

Attorneys Prakash Ramdhar and Asif Hosein Shah objected to Peterson’s request.

Ramadhar, who represents the Henry and Kurban families, said the incident did not end on February 25.

“This commission is fully entitled to look not just at the causes but the consequences of the accident.”

Ramadhar said, “The ultimate consequence would have been the loss of human life.”

He was disappointed by Peterson’s request but did not blame him personally.

Ramadhar claimed this was an attempt “to suffocate those who are so powerless.”

He said, “This is a commission for the people of TT.”

Ramadhar said the people needed to hear who the four deceased divers were, that their lives matters and there are consequences on their families.

“This amounts to what the courts admit to on a daily basis, in our criminal proceedings, and in other places at victim impact statements.”

Shah, who represents the Seamen and Waterfront Workers Trade Union, said the commission had a responsibility to examine how Paria and Land and Marine Construction Services Ltd (LMCS) dealt with the divers’ families after the incident.

Ali Jr, Kurban, Henry, Nagassar and Boodram were all LMCS employees.

In response, Peterson said, “There is no intent by my client (Paria/Heritage) and by extension me, to stifle any voice. That is not the reason for this application or this objection.”

He reiterated he was only trying to help the commission to do its work.

Referring to claims made by Ramadhar about other attorneys allegedly engaged by Paria to deal with the divers’ families, Peterson said, “There is no stifling. There will be full ventilation of that elsewhere I gather. But I am not involved in that, at least not at this stage.”