Sunday, December 17, 2017

Diesel Dossier

PART II-Fictitious platforms and the diesel trade


Moments later on that same day the Atlantic Surveyor is seen on the high seas, when in fact this boat should be dry docked for repairs and not traverse the seas until all repairs are complete.

Donstan Bonn


Moments later on that same day the Atlantic Surveyor is seen on the high seas, when in fact this boat should be dry docked for repairs and not traverse the seas until all repairs are complete.

Donstan Bonn

The physical condition of the Atlantic Surveyor which made it not seaworthy was not the only problem officials encountered during their investigation.

The Express, with the assistance of officials has uncovered information which points to the vessel being involved in the bunkering of diesel where it is docked at the Labidico port in La Brea.

Under the strictest confidentiality, sources revealed their detailed findings on the Atlantic Surveyor.

This vessel, according to a Customs and Excise form C55, was operating from Labidco's port to supply diesel to ghost platforms "Alpha" and "25" for a company called Equal Marine Services Ltd.

Atlantic Surveyor boat owners Kurt Ramroop and Kearl Alexander who spoke to the Express in a telephone interview, denied any involvement and pointed fingers in another direction.

"We're not involved in the illegal bunkering business. You need to look at Customs, they are the problem," Ramroop claimed.

But at least four high ranking officials in the Ministry of Energy told the Express they believe the diesel scam involves possible collusion between smugglers and officials entrusted to take care of the economic interest and well-being of the country.

The Express secured an official letter dated December 20, 2011, in which Ministry of Energy officials informed the Maritime Services Division that the Atlantic Surveyor is under investigation and should not have been released by Customs for repairs.

An official privy to details of the investigation said, "We have learned that the Atlantic Surveyor was given a very minor and superficial charge of $4,000 by Customs and was released from detention under questionable circumstances without other law enforcement authorities having the opportunity to investigate the more serious charges of felony, money laundering and tax evasion."

In a document discussing the illegal bunkering matter sent by attorney Nyree Alfonso, who is also an advisor to Attorney General Anand Ramlogan and an advisor to the Ministry of Energy, several pertinent questions were raised.

Why was the Atlantic Surveyor charged under section (196 a) of the Customs Act with a minimum fine of $4000 and not under section (197) which allows the vessel to be confiscated and charged the maximum fine of $10,000, she asked.

Several documented photos were taken in late October when the Atlantic Surveyor was seized.

These photographs showed specialised configurations to alter a hull to accommodate diesel and other apparatus to transfer diesel from one vessel to another vessel.

Alfonso, who spoke to the Express said, "Once there were alterations made on the vessel indicating it facilitated this trade, confiscation is the viable penalty so that we can stop this illegal trade."

Then why was there only a fine of $4,000 for an enterprise that can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars per shipment?

President of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions and Non-Governmental Organisations (FITUN) David Abdulah who exposed the racket last August, said he wanted a stern message sent to the perpetrators.

"The DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) can assist the Anti-Corruption Bureau which operates out of the AG's office; all of them can initiate investigations and regardless of whether the Customs just gave them a small fine and so on and have allowed it to continue, doesn't mean to say that the matter has ended. Prosecutions can still take place," Abdulah stated.

But that's not even half of the problem.

Major loopholes make it difficult for law enforcement to clamp down on the crime of illegal bunkering, according to president of the Seamen and Waterfront Workers Trade Union (SWWTU) Michael Annisette.

"Any subterfuge can be used by the owners in order to beat the system because they are very good at looking at your laws to determine what to do and because of our laws, because of our lack of human resource capabilities and because of what happens in Trinidad and Tobago the diesel is subsidised by the government people, see that as a big commercial opportunity to make millions," he said.

It was discovered that on October 13 and October 16, the Atlantic Surveyor left the Labidico Port to sail to two fictitious platforms located no more than two miles away.

Both trips were approved by Customs officials in the C55 form obtained by the Express.

The Express emailed Comptroller of Customs Fitzroy John a series of questions, one of which asked for an explanation as to why these two questionable trips were authorised.

His response was that the matter would be investigated.

He was unwilling to discuss why only a minimum penalty was imposed and dodged other questions posed to him about this operation.

When the Atlantic Surveyor was seized the crew claimed they were transporting diesel for a South-based energy service company.

What they didn't reveal was the name of the company.

In search of the company with no name, the Express contacted several senior officials at the South-based energy service companies which included Trinmar, Repsol and Bayfield.

They all told us the same thing.

The Atlantic Surveyor has never worked for any of these respective companies.

In fact Trinmar's diesel is transported by Associated Marine Services.

Repsol relies on Delta Logistics and Offshore Services Ltd, while Bayfield's service provider is Inter-Continental Shipping Agency.

None mentioned using the Atlantic Surveyor.

When apprehended the Atlantic Surveyor claimed it was servicing platforms "Alpha" and "25".

None of the companies we spoke to had platforms named "Alpha" or "25". And none of their platforms were located anywhere near the Labidico estate.

Repsol has three fields on the East coast. Their platforms are Alpha Teak, Alpha Poui and Alpha Samaan.

Bayfield has Trintess A with platforms A, B, C, and D situated on the East coast as well.

Trinmar has several fields located on the South and South Western penisula.

However, sources said that 13 years ago Trinmar abandoned a block service station named platform 25.

But the Atlantic Surveyor claimed it was transporting diesel to a block service station which was abandoned 13 years ago when officials confirmed that location has not been in operation since 1999.

And there's yet another twist to this story.

Along the journey to take this diesel somewhere outside the confines of what is legal and beyond the jurisdiction of the law, there are further allegations of corrupt activities and questionable enterprises.

Tomorrow: Part 3-The conclusion- Transporting the diesel.

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