Black Immigrant Daily News
TOUGH TESTIMONY: Catherine Ali, mother of the late Kassim Ali Jr, testifies at the commission of enquiry into the Paria diving tragedy at the International Waterfront Complex on Monday. Photo by Roger Jacob
DR CATHERINE Ali, mother of Kazim Ali Jr, one of the four divers who died last February during an ill-fated exercise at Paria Fuel Trading’s Pointe-a-Pierre facilities, spared no spared no punches, during her assessment of Paria Trading Company’s plan to deal with the tragedy.
“Paria’s process lacked justice and integrity,” said Ali in closing.
Ali, along with Ali Jr’s wife, Jamie Manodath-Ali, and other family members of the victims, delivered prepared statements on Tuesday at the latest hearing of the commission of enquiry (CoE) set up to investigate the accident.
The statements were in glaring defiance of Paria, which, through its attorney Gilbert Peterson, SC, raised an objection to the families’ statements at the start of the hearing on Monday.
Ali is also the wife of Ali Jr’s father, Kazim Ali Sr the head of LMCS, the diving firm that the men worked for until they died.
“There was no leadership, preparedness or morality in Paria’s decisions that killed four LMCS men who waited excruciatingly in the pipe until they could breathe no more,” she charged.
Ali recalled that, on February 25, last year, the day of the accident, she first received a call from Ali Sr, who told her about an accident in Pointe-a-Pierre involving their son and four workers.
“He had trouble getting through to me as I was on the road to Toco,” said Ali.
“I understood that I should come home immediately.”
Jamie Manodath-Ali, wife of the late diver Kasim Ali Jr, testifies at the commission of enquiry into the Paria diving tragedy at the International Waterfront Complex on Monday. Photo by Roger Jacob
Ali said her husband explained what he knew when she arrived to her son and his wife’s home in Marabella at around 7 pm.
“(I learned that the survivor) Christopher Boodram, (returned) to the surface unaided,” she said and of an “interruption of the rescue plans for bringing the other four men to the surface.”
Ali said she was told that Boodram got himself out and told someone the divers were all alive in the pipeline. She said he promised he would go back for them.
“I was in regular contact with my husband and he provided me with updates.
“LMCS personnel remained on site Friday (February 25) evening waiting for rescue diver permits, listening to the missing divers communicating distress calls,” Ali said, adding that several dive vessels and volunteers arrived at Berth Six to render assistance.
“Paria still refused to allow rescue,” she said, “and in desperation, LMCS workers on the barge contacted the media to agitate and pressure Paria to take or allow action.”
On February 25, Ali said she witnessed phone calls between Ali Sr and Paria, “arguing for work permits to allow a dive rescue by LMCS divers and/or the many dive experts gathered at Berth Six volunteering their service and having all the resources on-site.”
She said the phone was on speaker but she could not recall the person he spoke with.
“(My understanding) is that LMCS was seeking to perform a rescue on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
Ali said she witnessed discussions between Ali Sr, his brothers, former senior staff at Petrotrin, and others between February 26 and 27.
“This team also attended meeting with Kazim to convince Paria management to implement the rescue plan for the four men. This rescue (tried to do) everything they could to address the situation given the urgency of the situation,” she said.
“They prepared for the meeting with Paria (and) returned to the meeting with Paria in order to put things in place (as requested by Paria).
“On Saturday morning (February 26), we met with family and friends who were locked outside Paria’s gate…and sought information and counselling for them.”
Ali said LMCS provided trauma support through printed material, a hotline, an introduction to a psychotherapist, and sessions with trauma team professionals from the Franciscan Institute, and stress relief laser therapies.
She said Paria never contacted her directly about the incident.
Ali identified her son’s body at the Forensic Sciences Complex, St James, on March 1. She said her husband and son were especially close.
“It was wrong to bar a father from saving his son and wrong to bar Michael Kurban from saving his father. All four LMCS men have families and friends who love them.”
Some of the other prepared statements were read by the actual family members, while others were conveyed by the attorneys representing them.
Vanessa Kussie, who was in a common-law relationship and had a son with Rishi Nagassar, one of four victims, said she and her family went to Paria’s facilities on February 25 but were forced to seek second-hand information from people in vehicles entering and leaving the company’s premises, including the ambulance and LMCS employees, because no one at Paria was available to answer their questions.
Vanessa Kussie, common-law wife of late diver Rishi Ryan Nagassar, testifies at the commission of enquiry into the Paria diving tragedy at the International Waterfront Complex on Monday. Photo Roger Jacob
“In less than half an hour we saw an ambulance coming out of Paria and when they were halfway through, (my uncle asked if there was an accident).
“The driver said he didn’t know exactly what is going on but he can only say that someone got took out from a pipe. He wasn’t even sure if it was a pipe or he got injured but he was full of oil. They took him to the San Fernando Hospital.
“We asked him (for the victim’s name) and he said he don’t know and we should go Sando hospital if we want to find out.
“When he found out it was Christopher Boodram who came out, my uncle Allan (Seepersad, councillor for Couva/Tabaquite/Talparo) went back to the security and said, ‘All these vehicles going in and out for the second time an ambulance is coming out and they still saying no accident.
“‘A big company like this and you don’t have a number to call someone and there is no one (to give us information)?’”