As the bereaved families continue to fight for justice and compensation, the wife of one of the divers who died in the 2022 tragedy at Paria Fuel Trading Co Ltd said she received calls of support from immediate relatives of the company's board.
The revelation came from Rishi Nagessar's widow, Vanessa Kussie, as the divers' families were joined by the Oilfield Workers' Trade Union (OWTU) and United National Congress (UNC) MPs for the second week in protest action at the company's Pointe-a-Pierre compound on February 1. Admitting the ongoing battle was wearing her down, Kussie said she was given strength on January 31 when she received the calls.
"Paria officials, their families are calling me to tell me they are so proud I am standing strong, fighting for the divers and the sad thing about it is they cannot help but tell me that they are so sorry to call them, the Paria officials, their family," she said.
"This has given me a lot of strength to push forward and Paria needs to step up and take responsibility, at least, come out and speak to us."
She did not want to disclose who the Paria board members were or how those who called were related to them. However, she said they were "immediate" relatives. Commenting on the revelation, OWTU president general Ancel Roget said those relatives were "right-thinking" and "law-abiding" citizens. However, he implied that it was the wives of board members who spoke to Kussie.
"We would continue to urge them to try to convince their husbands, persuade them to do the right thing because the first priority has to be that these families be properly and adequately compensated," he said. "We thank them for those utterances, but at the same time, we ask them to go further. And to, even if it comes to that, join us out here in protest for what is the right thing to do."
When contacted, Paria's chairman Newman George declined to comment before questions were posed on any matter relating to the diving incident saying it was now sub judice. Newsday understands industrial relations charges under the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act have been filed at the Industrial Court.
On February 25, 2022, five Land and Marine Construction Services (LMCS) divers, Fyzal Kurban, Kazim Ali Jnr, Yusuf Henry, Rishi Nagassar and Christopher Boodram were sucked into a 36-inch pipeline at Berth No 6 at Pointe-a-Pierre during a delta P incident. Boodram was the only survivor.
Following the incident, a $15.6 million commission of enquiry was conducted led by Jerome Lynch, KC. It found Paria was culpable of "gross negligence" and corporate manslaughter. It also found Paria and LMCS to be liable for OSH violations. The findings were submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions to determine the way forward with any charges.
One recommendation of the report was that Paria could compensate the families without the move being an acceptance of liability. However, Kussie said the families are yet to be contacted by the company.
A letter, provided to Newsday by OWTU Pointe-a-Pierre branch president Christopher Jackman on January 26 asked the company to initiate these discussions with the families. The letter was acknowledged by Paria general manager Mushtaq Mohammed on Wednesday. "Kindly be advised that we are presently reviewing your request along with our legal and other advisers and shall revert to you thereafter," it said.
On January 26, the Prime Minister said, despite calls from the opposition UNC, he cannot direct the state-owned company to compensate the families. "This is a matter where a state company had an accident in a situation where a contract was being executed by a private company. These are the facts."
He added, "So the Government cannot just jump in and decide to pay compensation willy-nilly all over the place. We have to follow processes."
However, Jackman disagreed with Rowley's stance saying the country needs to make him pay the political price for it.
"The citizens of TT will have to hold him accountable for that decision," he said. "It shows to me that he does not care about this situation and he does not care about what occurred with the divers. It can't be that you spent in excess of $16 million to investigate a matter, you find culpability, you have recommendations made and you are now taking a backseat stance and wiping your hands."