Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Six Petrotrin employees fired for oil spill negligence


TOUGHT DECISION: President of Petrotrin Khalid Hassanali, right, during yesterday’s press conference at the company’s Learning Resource Centre at Pointe-a-Pierre. Looking on is Petrotrin chairman Lindsay Gillette. —Photo: DEXTER PHILIP

Mark Fraser

CARELESSNESS and negligence on the part of some Petrotrin employees are the reasons why the company lost more than 7,000 barrels of oil last year.

For this reason, the State oil company yesterday fired six senior employees.

Petrotrin president Khalid Hassanali said it brought no joy to the company to serve the employees with letters of termination.

He was speaking to reporters during a press conference at Petrotrin’s Learning Resource Centre in Pointe-a-Pierre yesterday.

The conference was to disclose the findings of Petrotrin’s investigation into the oil spills that affected hundreds along the southwestern coastline since last December.

He said the investigation conducted by six Petrotrin employees including a member from the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) was completed on Friday evening.

Initially, Petrotrin reported there were 11 incidents of oil spills from December 17 to 29.

Four of these leaks were related to companies that have joint ventures with Petrotrin—Trinity Exploration and Production Company and Neal and Massy Energy Resources Ltd.

The company initially reported that a weld leak developed on the No 10 Sea Line at the Petrotrin Pointe-a-Pierre port during fuel oil bunkers loading operations for the barge Marabella on December 17.

In one of its earlier press releases, Petrotrin stated: “The cause was identified to be a failed chain support not apparently defective during previous routine inspections.”

Oil spill response had commenced on December 18, with staging areas established on Coffee Beach, Carat Shed Beach and Point Sable Beach.

Last month, the company suspended 12 employees with pay.

Using a chart for demonstration, Hassanali gave a detailed history as to how the spill occurred and said the 12 employees were interviewed at least three times for various reasons.

He said: “Twelve were initially suspended. Of those 12, six were found to have a lesser level of culpability and six were found to have a very high degree of culpability. And, for those six where the level of culpability weighed very heavily, those six (yesterday) morning were issued letters of termination from employment at Petrotrin.”

Hassanali said the six workers “were found to be negligent and careless and so on”.

Included in those six were two shift team leaders, port operations officer, a chief supervisor and a foreman, he said.

When a problem was first realised at 2 a.m. on December 17 at the refinery at Pointe-a-Pierre, pumping should not have continued, he said.

“The investigation concluded that by 3 a.m. it was very clear that something was manifestly wrong but (crew members) continued pumping,” he said. “In pumping operations, if you have a situation like this, you start pumping and you not receiving, it is odd that you start a second pump because you don’t know where things are going. Oil was being pumped into the sea and nothing was shut down.”

Within an hour, 1,000 barrels of oil had been pumped into the sea.

Hassanali said of the 12 workers suspended, the other six will return to work as usual tomorrow.

However, six other managers were also issued letters of investigation because “asset integrity concern” was a management issue.

And Petrotrin welcomed any other investigations regarding the oil spill since the company was always “open to scrutiny”, Hassanali said.

Contacted yesterday, Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine said in an e-mail about the firings: “The matter was conducted by Petrotrin and I was kept informed by the chairman. I am advised that all procedures and protocols were followed as regards proper industrial relations practice.”

The OWTU recently called for an urgent meeting with Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to provide all of the records and documentary evidence it had relating to the recent oil spills.

The meeting is necessary to avoid any recurrence, OWTU president-general Ancel Roget said last month when he delivered a letter to Persad-Bissessar outlining the “sins of omission and commission” on the part of Petrotrin’s management team that led to the oil spills that affected the country’s south-western peninsula.

The letter was handed over to the Prime Minister’s press secretary, Francis Joseph.

“You would know that since December 17 the national oil company has been plagued with a number of issues relating to a major oil spill and, subsequently, a number of oil spills,” Roget said. 

“We in the OWTU, we are very concerned about the consequence of those oil spills and we are concerned that the management, in their desperate attempt to cover up the real cause, the root cause of those oil spills, we are very concerned that the real issues will not come out, and if those issues are not brought to the fore then the national oil company is in great danger of having reoccurrences and so on in the future. So therefore it is another proactive move that we are making this morning on behalf of the stakeholders, and the stakeholders in this regard are all of the people of Trinidad and Tobago,” he said.

Roget said a lot of misinformation surrounding the oil spills is currently being disseminated. “If Petrotrin goes down, then the people of Trinidad and Tobago will lose and therefore we felt that it is our responsibility to not sit idly by and allow the management and the board of directors with its chairman peddle a lot of misinformation to the public in general and of course to their bosses in the Cabinet,” Roget said.