Hope shattered for families as missing divers declared dead

Heartbroken relatives and friends of divers Kazim Ali, Yusuf Henry, Rishi Nagassar and Fyzal Kurban sit in the carpark outside Heritage Petroleum in Pointe-a-Pierre on Sunday. after being told that the rescue operation has been turned into a recovery operation. - Photo by 
 Marvin Hamilton
Heartbroken relatives and friends of divers Kazim Ali, Yusuf Henry, Rishi Nagassar and Fyzal Kurban sit in the carpark outside Heritage Petroleum in Pointe-a-Pierre on Sunday. after being told that the rescue operation has been turned into a recovery operation. - Photo by Marvin Hamilton

The families of four divers who went missing while working on a 36-inch underwater crude oil pipeline in Pointe-a-Pierre on Friday had their hopes for the men’s successful rescue dashed when officials of Paria Fuel Trading Company announced that they are presumed dead.

The grim announcement was made by Paria chairman Newman George, general manager Mushtaq Mohammed and terminal operations manager Collin Piper at a news conference at the former Petrotrin staff club in Pointe-a-Pierre shortly after 8 pm on Sunday.

It brought to an end an agonising wait for the relatives of Fyzal Kurban, Rishi Nagassar, Kazim Ali Jr and Yusuf Henry. (Read 'Continued hope and prayers for rescue of missing divers' here)

A fifth diver in the group, Christopher Boodram, was rescued on Friday. He is in a stable condition at the San Fernando General Hospital.

George said, "The operation has now moved from rescue to recovery."

This was based on consultation among Paria, the coast guard, LMCS Ltd (the divers’ employer), expert divers and other stakeholders, after it was determined the probability of the men's survival was low.

Expressing the company's condolences to the divers' families, George said, "This has not been an easy decision."

A water displacement process will be used to gently move the divers' bodies along the pipeline “so they can be collected with dignity and respect” at Berth 6 ,where the incident happened, and returned to their families.

After saying the company had been doing its best to keep the families and the public informed about the efforts to find the missing divers, George said the news that they were dead was shared with relatives before the news conference.

"We did not take that decision (to announce the shift from rescue to recovery) unilaterally."

The time or times of death of the divers could not be determined.

Mohammed said, "We have no concrete evidence of this."

While the recovery operation is ongoing, George said it would not be until Monday, when sufficient water pressure is built up inside the pipeline to ease the bodies along.

He could not say the timeframe for recovering the bodies, but reiterated it will be done in a respectful and dignified manner.

George and Mohammed said an investigating team will be assembled to determine the cause of the incident.

While admitting there were emergency divers on standby to help, Mohammed and Piper said the advice emerging from the consultation amongst the stakeholders at the time was that it was too risky to send divers in to find the missing men.

Mohammed and George declined to respond to claims from relatives and other people that the rescue response was too slow or that Paria was negligent or liable for the incident. George said the investigation will determine that.

Mohammed said because of the nature of Paria's fuel operations, it would not be wise to allow relatives to wait at the recovery site.

News that the divers were dead, and efforts were now being made to recover their bodies, came as a bitter blow to relatives who had been waiting in a car park outside Heritage Petroleum's administrative building in Pointe-a-Pierre since the incident. (Read 'Hope dims for missing divers, relatives knock Paria over rescue mission' here)

Wendy Phillip, aunt of Yusuf Henry, said, "I am very distraught right now. This is a very cruel act of these people, not having consideration for the families."

Phillip said Paria could have asked for help if the situation was beyond its control.

At an impromptu news conference at the car park after the announcement by Paria, a diver who identified himself as Michael said he was involved in rescuing Boodram.

He said he did not find any other of the other divers.

He questioned why there was a delay in sending other divers to find the men.

“We still had time to save those guys."

The diver claimed an order was given to block an access point in the pipeline which could have been used to get to the missing men.

Earlier on Sunday, Nicole Greenidge, mother of Yusuf Henry, expressed frustration with the lack of information on the rescue or recovery efforts.

“Since Friday we have been fed with lies as far as I'm concerned."

A meeting on Saturday with the families, Energy Minister Stuart Young and Paria officials brought them little comfort.

Greenidge claimed, "What they told us and nothing is the same. The meeting ended with no kind of conclusion"

The families were joined on Sunday by members of the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ), Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU) and First Wave Movement who picketed in front the main gate of the Heritage Petroleum administrative building.

They began their demonstration around 10 am, shouting, "We want justice! We want answers." Some of them held placards with these and other messages. Two placards read "Daddy when are you coming home?" and "Save our fathers."

At about 10.15 am, a convoy of police and army vehicles sped past with their occupants entering the Heritage Petroleum compound.

At 10.45 am, a vehicle carrying heavy equipment entered the Heritage compound. About 20 minutes later, an ambulance arrived. Heavily-armed police officers subsequently took up positions inside and outside the compound, keeping an eye on the protesters.

MSJ political leader David Abdulah said, "Today I want to share the pain of the families of the divers who are still missing. We are here today in solidarity with you."

He said Friday’s events demonstrated everything that was wrong in TT. He blamed the PNM administration and all its predecessors for this.

He accused Government of implementing policies that "demonstrate a callous disregard for human life and for people."  (Read 'Opposition calls for independent investigation into diving tragedy' here)


"Hope shattered for families as missing divers declared dead"

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