Two weeks after he stared death in the face, Christopher Boodram, the lone survivor of the Paria tragedy which claimed the lives of four of his colleagues, has unburdened all to the Sunday Express.
He feels deeply that his friends could have all been rescued as he left them alive in “air pockets” in the Paria pipeline.
In an exclusive interview last Friday at the Freedom Law Chambers of former attorney general Anand Ramlogan, Boodram shared how he cheated death and survived the diving horror.
He said criminal charges should be proffered against Paria Fuel Trading Ltd, which declared his colleagues dead, and the Coast Guard, which prevented rescue efforts.
Boodram, 36, who appeared visibly shaken and unable to walk properly or use his bruised left arm, spent three hours recalling what took place that dreaded day, breaking down in tears at times and also venting his fury over the actions he believed led to his friends’ deaths.
On Friday, February 25, five LMCS divers— Boodram, Fyzal Kurban, Rishi Nagassar, Kazim Ali Jr and Yusuf Henry—went to No 36 sealine riser on the Berth 6 offshore platform at Pointe-a-Pierre to conduct maintenance works on a pipeline around 2.45 p.m. Something went wrong and they were all sucked into the pipeline. On Friday evening, Boodram was rescued by private divers who defied orders and went in search of the men. Boodram had spent hours fighting and crawling to get out of the pipeline. On Monday night, February 28, Paria issued a statement indicating that three bodies had been recovered.
On Thursday, March 1, Nagassar’s body was recovered. All divers have been laid to rest. Present with Boodram last Friday were his wife, Candy Stoute-Boodram, and three children, Carlell, 14; Chloe, ten; and Ciara. His legal representatives are Ramlogan, Che Dindial and Robert Abdool-Mitchell.
Boodram said he has been deep-sea diving since his early 20s and is certified with the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI). He had been diving for at least 12 years commercially and before that, he had been diving, welding and fabricating in the marine field. He said he worked with LMCS for about ten years and, in November 2021, he joined the company permanently. Timeline of the tragic day Here’s a blow-by-blow account of the tragic day, now the subject of a commission of enquiry.
February 25: Boodram woke up at 4 a.m. to get to work early. He did his normal routine of prayer, exercise and breakfast, and headed to Paria around 5.30 a.m., which was about two minutes away from his home.
That Friday was a cold and rainy day. He said when everyone arrived (the four other divers), they got their mobilisation permits and changed into their wetsuits and then waited to get their work permits issued. Boodram said these work permits are issued by Paria and outlines the tasks and hazards of the job, as well as the permission. He said he was always comforted by this as he felt this was his “insurance policy” in the event anything went wrong. There was also a “toolbox” discussion— a verbal briefing of the risks and safety. The scope of the job, he said, was to go into the hyperbaric chamber and do the maintenance work.
The five divers boarded the barge and went out to the “habitat”. Four of them dived into the waters and swam to the entrance of the hyperbaric chamber.
“When you enter the chamber, you take off your dive gear because inside there is a dry space. We have an air hose from the barge that comes through the top of the chamber into compressors that pumping air and keeping the space dry. It is all under the water, but that space is dry,” he said.
“That morning, the job entailed taking off a blank (a metal plate), taking out the first plug and then a second plug and putting down half a pipe on it, join a new piece of riser onto the old riser, bolt it down and that was it,” he said, adding there was a camera on the wall as well as an emergency radio.
He said Kazim Ali Jr was the last to enter the chamber, as he came to check on them.
“We had just removed two plugs when Ali Jr entered the chamber and the whole room just fill up with water and started to flood in an instant.
“I try to jump out and I just remember being in something like a tornado and getting beat around in there,” he said.
“After that I remember being inside the pipe getting flushed down, and it felt like 50 to 100 miles per hour. I remember hurtling in that pipeline at unimaginable speed. It felt like it was a tornado. I remember trying to stop myself in the pipe and I was just skating,” he said.
“I told myself in my mind, this is the end. Mom, I’m coming. Father, open the gates, let me see what the next side is. My chest started tightening, my throat was making a noise, my heart was racing and slowing down at the same time. I thought this was it,” he said. His mother died on January 10 from heart disease.
Boodram said he held his breath throughout this period and then he felt his movement beginning to slow down.
He fell into an “air pocket” of the pipeline and started to gasp for breath.
An “air pocket”, he explained, is a part of the pipe that is not completely filled with water but empty, semi-dry, and would allow one to breathe without a tank.
He said the sea bed is not flat and, therefore, the pipeline is shaped with the contours of the sea bed and would not be completely filled with water but have a number of air pockets.
Boodram said he started dragging himself along the pipeline, which is about 36 inches (91 centimetres) in diameter, using his elbow and feet for about ten minutes in the air pocket before he heard Ali Jr’s voice.
“I was on my back. I begin crawling and dragging myself feet first along the pipeline when I start to hear screaming. I tell myself them fellas outside and looking for me. I yelled back, ‘I coming! I coming! I’m inside the pipeline, I coming. I coming!’” he said.
He said he heard a voice shout back, “Me, too! Me, too! I inside the pipeline too, boy! Is me, Kaz! Kaz, boy! Kaz!” he said.
Boodram said he shouted to Ali Jr that he was coming, but he could not see anything, as it was pitch black and he could not tell exactly where he (Ali Jr) was, so he continued dragging himself along the air pocket of the pipeline.
“I was moving along and then I heard Kaz again, and we bounce up because we cannot see anything. I ask him if he alright. He was crying and he tell me no. He damage. He said he feeling like he cannot move. Then I heard somebody bawling out and I shouted, ‘Who is that?!’ Yusuf answer and say, ‘Chris, is me, boy, brother boy,’ and he bawling. I asked him if he alright, and he say, ‘No, boy, my hand break and my foot break.’ I say, ‘Alright, relax yourself, we have to get out of this,’” he related.
Boodram said he heard another voice and it was “Fyzie” (Fyzal Kurban). He said he asked about Rishi and they told him he was behind them, and they could hear him knocking. ‘Give us a miracle’
Boodram said he realised they must get out and get help.
“I told small Kaz (Ali Jr) to take his arms and put it over my feet. I take my feet and wedge beneath his armpits and I tell him to try he best and keep his arms closed. I told Yusuf to push Kaz while I pulling him, and I tell Fyzie to push Yusuf and all of we will get out of this. I tell them let us get help and we will go back (for Rishi),” he said.
Boodram reiterated they were all in the huge air pocket and therefore were able to breathe.
“I said before we do this, let we say a prayer, and I call out on Jesus and I pray to the Lord. I said, ‘Father God, help we get out of there, give us a miracle, send somebody to save we, Father Lord, give we the strength.’ Yusuf start praying loudly with me,” he said.
He said they felt around the pipeline and “Fyzie” found an oxygen tank, and he told him to hold onto it and they returned to crawling along the air pocket of the pipe.
“Don’t picture that we had tanks on we back. The tank in front of me, I holding it and the regulator with the oil and everything in my mouth. And I pushing the tank along, it has no room to put the tank on the back,” he said.
He said every five to ten minutes, they rested.
“Every five or ten minutes, Kazim would ask for a rest or Yusuf. I myself stop and have a break because I dragging these guys and Fyzie helping to push. Every time we stop, we pray, we call onto God and to save us. I tell these fellas we have we family, we have to get back to them,” he said.
He said they neared the end of the air pocket and were now reaching to water in the pipeline, and at this point he decided that since he was in the front and more able to move, he and “Fyzie” would try to make their way out and get help, as they both had tanks.
Boodram said the men were all panicking when he spoke about going ahead, and Kazim said they were all going to die.
“I asked the Lord to take away my pain, give me strength and if I have to die, make it easy,” he said.
“I told them the chances of me and Fyzie going forward was greater for them to get help.
“Both Yusuf and Smalls (Ali Jr) saying, ‘Brother, don’t go nah, boy.’ I say, ‘I have to go, brother boy. If I stay here, all of we will die, none of we will see our children. I have to go get help,’” he said.
Boodram said he found a piece of iron and started pounding the inside of the pipeline to get attention and signal life. He then swam into the water area of the pipeline, with the scream of the men pleading with him not to leave.
He said he swam for about 20 minutes and then reached another air pocket, and a while after he heard Kurban’s voice behind him.
“He said, ‘Wait, nah, wait nah.’ I said, ‘I cyah wait, brother boy, I don’t have enough air, brother. Come, nah, I going to get help.’ I said, ‘You alright?’ He said yes and I ask him if he have air, and he said yes. I told him to rest, and he said he coming. I told him, ‘I going, I going under the water again.’ He said wait again, and I told him, ‘I can’t wait, brother, I have to get help,’” he said.
Ramoutar to the rescue
Boodram said he had less than a half-tank of oxygen and knew time was of the essence to get out and get help. He then swam into another water pocket.
He said while in the pipeline with water, he found another oxygen tank and he continued on until he reached the “elbow” leading to the vertical pipe leading to the chamber, and he started swimming upwards.
“I couldn’t see anything. There was light in the chamber, but the length of time my eyes didn’t see light, my eyes was in pain and burning,’ he said.
Boodram said there is about a five-foot distance for him to pull out of the water of the pipe into the chamber.
“When I reach up, there was a chain block hanging from where we were doing the job. I jump about five or six times to reach it and when I did, I try pulling myself out. I’m drenched down in oil and didn’t have strength. I could barely move my arm and foot (left). I look around and see a next chain and I use it to pull up myself and wedge myself inside the pipe to stay out the water,” he said.
The chamber was no longer flooded, but he could not hoist himself up.
“I started to cry. I reach all this way back and expected some help. I break down. How they could leave we here? They abandon we here? My mind start to play tricks; is this me in the physical or is this me spiritually here ’cause I was not seeing anybody, I was crushed thinking I fight so much to reach up here and nobody here at the end of this pipe to grab me and pull me out,” he said.
Boodram said he started using the chains to pound on the pipeline for a very long time to get help, and then he heard a pounding sound in return. He said he was startled when he saw a diver in full gear and hoodie at the top of the chamber.
“I said, ‘Save me, boy, save me!’” he said. Boodram said that rescue diver was Ronald Ramoutar, who tried to pull him up twice but was unable to. “He tried pulling me up twice and couldn’t get me up. I was drenched with oil. I said, ‘Rolly (Ramoutar), go and get somebody to help,’ and as he turned back, Corey (second rescue diver) came in and help him pull me out and I fall down inside (the chamber),” he said.
Boodram said he immediately told them go back for the others. “I say, ‘Fyzie wasn’t too far from behind me, allyuh, go back for him now. Them fellas in the air pocket waiting,’ and they said yes, they will organise and go, but they want to get me out first. Corey give me a tank and I swim up straight up to the surface where the Adventurer X pick me up,” he said.
“When they pull me up, I see Nicholas Kurban on top the barge and Michael Kurban was on top the chamber. I say, ‘Nicholas, go and save your father, boy, he wasn’t too far from me. Gear up now and go and save your father.’ I turn to Michael and also shouted, ‘Go and save your father,’” he said. Boodram said someone told him he was in shock and he shouted at them, “Let go of me, let me go back for them fellas!”
Paria murdered my friends
Boodram is angry that Paria officials would not let anyone into the water to rescue his friends. “All of them were living and Paria made a conscious decision to murder my friends by telling the Coast Guard to not allow no more divers into the pipeline to rescue them,” he said. He said he was further enraged when he learnt that Ramoutar had to defy orders to go into the water and had he not done that, he would have been dead.
He said he was injured and was able to swim out, and there were able-bodied divers on site who could have returned and rescued the men.
“These air pockets are so big for four of us. They could have sent in divers and a line (oxygen) and rescue them. I see they saying something about tanks being lodged and blocking the way. That is not true,” he said. Boodram said when he was at the hospital and realised that the four others were not in the intensive care unit (ICU) with him, he tried to discharge himself to go back and rescue them, but he was barely able to walk. Boodram said he is haunted by the voices of his friends and his promise of returning to get them, and he was angry that rescue efforts were stopped. He said his brother was on the site with his boat and learnt that the Coast Guard did not have diving equipment.
“My brother immediately sent back one of our boats to get diving equipment for them. When the diving equipment came, they tell them don’t bother, they don’t need it anymore. How morally and ethically a Coast Guard officer can point a gun to a next human being and tell them they not allowed to go and save a life? The Coast Guard tell a man son that he cannot save his father,” he said. Stupid decision Boodram said attending the funerals of his four friends was painful. “I feel pain disappointment, hurt to know that I promise that I was coming back and I never went back and people were prevented from saving them. I promise each and every one of them that I will come back and if I can’t, help will come. That will never leave me. Nobody went back for them and I didn’t go back for them. Every single day and night I feel that pain. I am thankful for the Lord saving me but sometimes I feel like taking my own life. Why me?
Coming out that pipeline and seeing how they left us to die is worse than being in the pipeline. Paria actually condemned my comrades to death. They have the power to do this? Why? Who gave them the power to stop rescue efforts?” he asked.
“This in my eyes is murder because the same way I come out, is the same way all my friends could have been out living today if they didn’t make that decision to murder my friends and restrict divers from rescuing them, they were in the air pocket, living, breathing, talking, praying…..yes, they had injuries but they were alive. Even when I was coming out the pipeline, I was hearing the knocking, they were knocking and begging for help. I promise these guys I was coming back for them,” he said. Boodram said the men were robbed of their lives because of Paria’s “stupid decision” and the Coast Guard refusal to allow rescue efforts.
“That decision is first degree murder. The people who made this decision, if it is one or more, should be held accountable, should have criminal charges against them,” he said. Boodram said he wants the Paria Board to be held accountable lawfully and all families to be compensated. He said he has no confidence in a Commissioner of Enquiry and he believes it is to “cover up”. Boodram said he is the only survivor and to date no one from Paria has contacted him. Although Energy Minister Stuart Young said that the OSH Agency and the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) are investigating the incident, no one has spoken to Boodram to date. He is unable to work and worries about how he will be able to look after his wife and three children. Boodram said he is traumatised and cannot imagine ever returning to the water again.
He said he has been getting calls from people saying he would be taken care of and all this would be settled. ‘I will never take a pay off no matter how big it is and betray my fallen soldiers, my divers, my brothers. I am alive to tell the truth and full truth, that is all I can do,” he said.
By Chris Boodram (as reported in the press)