CoE chairman, lawyers doubt witness’s testimony

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Black Immigrant Daily News

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Jerome Lynch, KC

PARIA Commission of Enquiry (CoE) chairman Jerome Lynch, KC, questioned the relevance of evidence given to the commission by diving instructor Dr Glenn Cheddie about the incident on February 25, 2022, when four divers died after they were sucked into a 30-inch pipeline at Berth 6, belonging to Paria Fuel Trading Co Ltd, Pointe-a-Pierre

Kazim Ali Jr, Fyzal Kurban, Yusuf Henry, Rishi Nagassar and Christopher Boodram were doing routine maintenance on the pipeline when they were sucked into it. Only Boodram survived.

Cheddie was a late witness called by the Seamen and Waterfront Workers Trade Union (SWUTT), which is being represented before the commission by attorney Nyree Alfonso. She argued on Monday that Cheddie had information which was relevant to the enquiry.

When the commission sat on Tuesday at Tower D of the Port of Spain International Waterfront Centre, Lynch was sceptical about the relevance of Cheddie’s testimony and about other divers who appeared before the commission being unable to dispute whatever he would say

Kenson attorney Chase Pegus told Lynch he would need to question Cheddie, as his testimony might contradict that of company employee Rolph Seales, who testified before the commission last week.

Paria and Heritage Petroleum lead counsel Gilbert Peterson, SC, said, “Mr Cheddie is being dumped on us.”

Peterson recalled that Cheddie made comments to the media about the incident while admitting he was not privy to all the facts.

He said if Cheddie were allowed to testify, the commission should not give any weight to whatever he would say.

Lynch acknwlodged the concerns raised by Pegus and Peterson.

In response to questions from Pegus, Cheddie said Seales called him on February 25 to request the use of a remotely-operated vehicle (ROV) that he had.

Cheddie said at the time Seales made the request, he did not know the four divers were stuck in the pipeline.

Pegus told Cheddie that contrary to what he said in his witness statement, Seales did not reveal the identities of the divers in the pipeline, because Seales was not a member of Paria’s incident command team and not privy to that information.

Cheddie said his knowledge of the incident was purely based on what he read and saw about it in the media.

Pegus observed this was at odds with Cheddie’s statement, in which he said, “I did in fact review documents filed before the commission.”

Cheddie accepted Pegus’ argument that “both of them (his verbal and written testimony) cannot be the truth.”

In response to questions from Peterson, Cheddie disclosed that he last dived in 2015 and had only done about 30 commercial dives in his career as a diver and diving instructor.

He also disclosed that he knew nothing about commercial diving operations in the energy sector and never did any commercial diving for any energy company.

Peterson claimed that Cheddie was biased against Paria and Land and Marine Construction Services Ltd (LMCS), the employer of the five divers.

“I don’t have a preconceived bias against LMCS and Paria.”

Cheddie admitted to being interviewed by the media last March about the incident and not knowing all the facts at the time.

He also admitted to incorrectly describing himself as an attorney when he testifed before the commission on Monday.

Petersen said, “My grandmother told me, if it’s not true, that’s a lie.”

Lynch asked Cheddie, “I want to know why you didn’t correct the error you made yesterday (about being an attorney)?”

Cheddie apologised for being caught up in the moment on Monday and said he thought he’d have the chance to make amends on Tuesday.

Later in the hearing, Alfonso agreed with Lynch that Cheddie had nothing relevant to add to what had already been said to the commission and should be discharged.

Before the next witness, In-CorrTech Ltd official Zaid Khan, began his testimony, Paria lead counsel Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC, said, “He is an expert.”

Maharaj’s remark amused Lynch. “Now, now.” he laughed in response.The commission will sit from 11 am on Wednesday and Thursday to hear closing arguments from attorneys representing different parties who appeared before it.