By Tarjei Leer-Salvesen
The NorWatch report "Health at Risk" described the bad safety routines and worryingly high injury rates at the Hydro Agri Trinidad (HAT) ammonia plants. It contained a chapter describing the 1997 fatal explosion and the company's efforts to take care of the injured workers and the widows of the two men who died. By the time the report was issued in June 2000, neither the widows nor the badly injured workers had received their just compensation for loss of their health and the loss of two husbands. By that time, the four victims of the accident had been fighting for almost three years, and the case was on its way to Court.
Few days after the PUBLICATION, Hydro Agri said an out-of-Court-settlement had been reached with the two widows,who WOULD receive approximately 4 million TT dollars each (a little more than USD 500.000). The company also said that as soon as the Court had approved the settlement with the widows, the cases with the two workers would be handled.
- We got our money last autumn, and we are happy that the case is finally over on our own behalf, says Amina Hosein, who was married with late HAT-engineer Farzan Hosein.
Rajesh Ramoutar is not all happy with today's situation. He still suffers from the 2nd and 3rd degree burns he got on more than 70% of his skin. He has had to wear a bandage covering parts of his head, and he has suffered with an infested wound in his neck. He has had problems suffering trauma and was as late as this spring visiting the US for medical control and treatment
- all this as a result of the accident four years ago. Ramoutar is still employed by Hydro Agri Trinidad, but says he is physically disabled. He demands a full compensation for the loss of his health, so that he can manage without financial worries in the future.
- We were so glad when Hydro Agri promised on Norwegian TV that our cases would be solved very soon. Therefore it is bitter to see that one-year after, still nothing has happened. I feel that Hydro Agri's lawyers are delaying the process, says a disappointed Ramoutar to NorWatch.
Naz Mohammed's case (the other seriously injured worker) has not moved either. He and Ramoutar are using the sameattorney, Fenton Ramsahoye, and they both deny Hydro Agri's allegations that Ramsahoye's travelling schedule has delayedthe process.
- Not our fault
HAT's President, Bjarne Olai Vik, says it isn't Hydro Agri's fault that a settlement hasn't been reached with the two workers yet. In a letter to NorWatch, he gives the following reasons for why the process is taking so long time:
"Negotiations started as planned after the settlement with the two widows had been closed. Technically, the negotiations are going on between their attorney and one appointed by our insurance company. The following factors has had a negative impact on the process:
- The other side's lawyer has been busy with other cases
- Both of the injured workers have gone through more surgery, a fact which may impact the compensation sum
- We disagree upon what is a fair sum (latest development is that the lawyer representing the injured workers has quadrupled the claim from one of the workers, this can hardly be said to speed up the process)
We are not happy with the speed at which this is moving, and as late as last week we sent a letter to the other side's lawyer asking him to contribute in closing the cases."
There have been rumours saying that Hydro Agri has planned to terminate the employment contracts for the two injured workers, who are both still receiving their monthly wages, on the four year date of the accident this autumn. HAT President Vik is clear in his rejection of these allegations:
- We have absolutely no plans terminating their employment in our company, he says.
Gas leakage and fire
Not long ago there was a new accident followed by a gas leakage that caught fire at the oldest of the three Hydro Agri ammonia plants in Trinidad. The accident occurred close to the scene of the 1997 accident that claimed two lives and the health of two more people. NorWatch heard about this accident when frightened HAT employees contacted us and asked what had happened. They said they had received little information from their own employer.
The workers were anxious, and wondered if Hydro Agri had hidden motives for rejecting help offered by the local firemen who came to the scene. But things ended well - this time. Nobody was seriously injured, and HATs own people managed to get control over the fire. Of course, there was quite some physical damage done to the plant, but that was all.
- Is it true that HAT rejected the local firemen?
- No, this information is incorrect. By the time of the local firemen's arrival at the HAT-plant, our people had already put out the fire, and there was no need for their intervention, says Bjarne Olai Vik.
- Has HAT organised an accident investigation committee after this fire?
- Yes, a committee was established immediately, with representatives from the Agri-division of Norsk Hydro, the authorities of Trinidad & Tobago, the OWTU trade Union and us at HAT. Their report has already been submitted, says Vik.
NorWatch has not succeeded in getting an official comment from the trade union OWTU, which organises the HAT employees.
"We were so glad when Hydro Agri promised on Norwegian TV that our cases would be solved very soon. Therefore it is bitter to see that one-year after, still nothing has happened. I feel that Hydro Agri's lawyers are delaying the process. "
Rajesh Ramoutar, accident victim and Hydro Agri Trinidad employee to NorWatch on the 11th of July 2001
Norsk Hydro in Trinidad & Tobago
Norsk Hydro owns hydro Agri Trinidad Ltd. (HAT) 100%. HAT runs and operates a total of three ammonia plants, employing 340 workers. The company is incorporated in Bermuda, but has all its activities in Trinidad. The oldest plant (known as the "HAT-plant") is owned 100% by HAT, and was taken over by the turn of 1990/1991. Norsk Hydro owns an additional share of 49% of the Trinidad Nitrogen Company (Tringen), the company that owns the two other factories, Tringen I and Tringen II. The remaining51% share of Tringen is owned by the govt. of Trinidad & Tobago. This company has no more than 7 employees. The reason for this is that HAT has the operational responsibility for all the three plants. The three plants represent a unit so big that they were responsible for 11% of the total world ammonia export in 1996.
Norwatch Newsletter 7/01