Shame and empathy are the two words that best describe my feelings while listening to the Commission of Inquiry into the incident when four divers lost their lives while trapped in a pipeline belonging to the Paria Fuel Trading Company. On 25 February 2022, just 8 months prior to the time of writing, this incident rocked our country and wrenched at the bellies of citizens, particularly those former Petrotrin employees.
Watching the man who was the sole surviving diver, crying while presenting his evidence during the inquiry was difficult, but experiencing him incorrectly blaming himself for the death of his colleagues puts your mind at a different level. While his bravery and courage are acknowledged, one would hope that he’s in the hands of an experienced therapist to help him through this difficult period.
I feel ashamed because this is another example of a leadership decision that has not been in the interest of the citizens of our country. No matter how this one is sliced, the bill for the taxpayer continues to rise.
My recurring question has been: How did we get to this? It is early days, but the evidence points to a complete collapse in the systems and procedures which create a safe working environment.
In 2018, when asked about the number of employees to be sent home because of the shutdown of the Petrotrin Refinery, then Chairman Espinet responded “All … All … All.” The refinery’s closure affected some 2,600 jobs including 1,700 jobs in the refinery. Among those discontinued jobs were the jobs carried out by a well-trained Safety Department which kept the refinery and its workers safe for many years. In one act, the institutional knowledge was removed and replaced by a level of incompetence which brought us to this tragedy.
What was the procedure to select LMCS Limited as the service provider for diving services? If the report that only “two members of the dive team were in possession of commercial diving certification while the others were certified for recreational scuba diving” is accurate, this supports my conclusion about the incompetence of the leadership team.
The world is looking on and coming to its own conclusions about this tragedy. How can a country which has been in the oil business for over 100 years exhibit such indifference about this level of incompetence? No matter the investment opportunity, why should an investor put his money in a place where the systems and processes are so broken?
In the same way that company directors are held liable for poor financial decisions and can face jail terms, shouldn’t the Board of Directors of Paria be held personally liable for the deaths of those four divers? Can we anticipate the passage of relevant legislation?