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Petrotrin 75% liable in offshore explosion—court

Published: 
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Anthony Chin-A-Fat, right, congratulates his attorney Kevin Ratiram after yesterday’s High Court judgement. photo: Rishi Ragoonath

 Yesterday San Fernando Civil Court judge Vasheist Kokaram handed down his judgment in the negligence lawsuit brought against Petrotrin and Valve Components Ltd (ValCom) by Anthony Chin-A-Fat. ValCom was found 25 per cent liable for the explosion. Both companies will have to pay damages and costs which will be assessed on March 21, 2011. Chin-A-Fat, who was represented by attorney Kevin Ratiram, sued both companies after he was injured on August 25, 2004, while doing routine maintenance work on an offshore platform known as Block Station 16.

He, together with Merrique, a senior supervisor with ValCom, were on the platform when one of the block valves exploded. Merrique was killed while Chin-A-Fat and other members of the valve maintenance crew were injured. Yesterday Kokaram ruled that the oil company had “failed to ensure the valve was properly maintained before the accident.” He said Petrotrin also “failed to depressurise the system” before work was started on valves that were being checked. The judge said he found Chin-A-Fat, who testified, to be “straightforward and frank.”

Kokaram said, based on the cross-examination of Peter Richards, ValCom’s witness, he formed the view that “ValCom did not discharge its duty to care for Chin-A-Fat.” He also determined that ValCom’s supervisor did not perform a job-safety briefing “to determine and guard against safety risks before the job began.” The judge also held that Petrotrin’s witness, Narash Ragoobar, was “illogical.” He felt Ragoobar did not have the qualifications or the expertise to determine the cause of the explosion. Attorney Ronnie Bissessar, instructed by Jessica Maicoo, appeared for ValCom and Neil Bisnath, instructed by Sherwin Seenath, appeared for Petrotrin.

Two further lawsuits, filed by other workers arising out of the same incident, are pending in the San Fernando Supreme Court. Chin-A-Fat said while working on the valve he noticed it was not turning and after ten minutes the metal started to vibrate. He said it was the first time he saw that happen and turned to report the incident to Merrique who was standing ten feet away from him. “All of a sudden, I heard a loud explosion and lost consciousness,” he said in his witness statement.

He said when he awoke he saw a liquid gushing out from where the valve was and “realised that the block valve had exploded.” Chin-A-Fat said in his years of experience he “never had any accidents” and believed there was a defect in the installation of the valve which was poorly maintained before the incident. He said prior to the incident he was aware that the platform had been shutdown and had not been operational for sometime. Many of the pipelines had become corroded,” he said.

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