Paria technical lead brought to tears during questioning at CoE

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Black Immigrant Daily News

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Chairman of the CoE, Jerome Lynch KC – Photo by Angelo Marcelle

THE Commission of Enquiry (CoE) into the Paria diving tragedy came to an abrupt halt on Wednesday morning as Paria’s acting technical lead Catherine Balkissoon burst into tears while being questioned by CoE chairman Jerome Lynch, KC, and was urged her to consider how she would have acted if it were her own family trapped in a pipeline.

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

Attorney Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC, asked Balkissoon about Paria’s decision to prevent rescue divers from entering the pipeline.

He asked if she believed Paria took “quick and urgent action,” especially as rescue divers were told to wait for five hours for a camera to arrive to go into the pipeline.

She said she believes the company acted quickly and urgently in assessing the risks of such a rescue attempt.

“Paria took action to say (to rescue divers): ‘Listen. Hold up. Are you sure you want to dive in there?’” she said.

“Someone’s life could (have been) lost, eh. It’s a balancing act.”

Lynch then said, “It might be a different balancing act if it were your father that was in the pipe or your son.”

Balkissoon, bursting into tears, said, “No, that’s not fair.”

Attorney Gilbert Peterson, who represents Paria, agreed Lynch’s comment was not fair.

“We on this side representing Paria have been respectful and sensitive (to witnesses)…It’s only fair that we extend the same respect to Paria’s witnesses.”

Lynch said it was not his intention to upset anyone, and he has been “meticulously trying to avoid doing that.”

He apologised to Balkissoon who asked him, “Do you know my father?”

Other attorneys in the room could be heard saying, “Terrible,” “Disgusting,” and “That was a snide comment.”

But Lynch continued, “But part of the risk analysis includes the person being willing to go into a pipeline.

“I cannot divorce myself from the fact that if it were my son, I might take a risk I wouldn’t have if it were not my son.

“It’s a perfectly reasonable factor to take into account.”

Michael Kurban, a rescue diver who was willing to assist, is the son of Fyzal Kurban.

The rescue divers were instructed by Paria not to enter the pipeline as it was too risky.

Peterson said while Balkissoon’s family was not involved, “She’s a human being.”

Lynch said, “Everybody who has a child or a father would wish to make a different decision to the professional who may not be prepared to enter a pipe.

“You might be prepared to risk your life far quicker if it were your son or your father than you would if it were a stranger. That is a factor. And to prevent somebody from being able to do that, even if they’re putting their own life at a considerable risk, is a big step.”

Later on, Balkissoon cried again while being questioned by attorney Prakash Ramadhar.

He asked her to name the four divers who died in the pipeline.

“Sir, listen, eh,” she said as she burst into tears, “This is…”

Ramadhar said, “Take as long as you want.”

Lynch intervened and said the question was not necessary.

Ramadhar told Balkissoon: “Don’t cry for me.”

Lynch said Balkissoon is “bound to be affected by the fact that four people died.”

As Ramadhar continued to press, Balkissoon asked for a break and Lynch agreed the CoE would take their lunch break.

Throughout Balkissoon’s testimony, Boodram, who was in the room, was seen scoffing, laughing and sometimes sucking his teeth at some of the claims made.

During his own testimony, Boodram had recalled his experience as a being “an unbelievable nightmare.”

He had complained there had been no rescue efforts to save his colleagues.

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