35 offshore workers test positive for COVID

Over 35 offshore workers employed with the Perenco Trinidad and Tobago oil and gas company were transported to the Ministry of Health’s quarantine facility at the University of the West Indies’ Debe campus last evening, after they tested positive for COVID-19 while on duty on the Teak Alpha platform last week.

The workers were transported to the facility just around 6.25 pm yesterday and were processed before going into quarantine.

Earlier, at around 10 am, they had been taken to Point Galeota by shuttle boat but there were no health officials to receive them. As such, they had to wait until health officials arrived, along with the maxi taxis which were to transport them to Debe. Guardian Media understands the workers stayed on shuttle boat for close to seven hours before a team of Ministry of Health officials went to process them at Point Galeota. However, the workers were forced to stay on the deck of the shuttle boat because the captain did not want them inside the vessel to prevent possible contamination.

Speaking with Guardian Media yesterday, the mother of one of the workers, who did not want to be identified for fear he would be victimised, said she was told by her son that three workers, who came off a boat onto the platform where he works, swabbed for the virus on Tuesday last and their results came back positive. However, she said the three workers were allowed to stay on the platform while testing got underway for the 32 workers who were believed to have been exposed duty on the offshore platform.

“My son said only on Friday they were tested and all the results came in positive but they weren’t taken off of the platform until this morning (Sunday) at about 10 am by a shuttle boat. The boat sailed to Point Galeota’s port but there was no one there to receive them, so my son and the rest of them were left in the outer deck as they weren’t allowed inside the boat because of the COVID-19,” the worried mother said.

“For hours on end, my son told me that the workers were trying to get in contact with company officials to find out what was happening and why no one was there to receive them, yet knowing that they all got on board Sunday morning about 10 o’clock. All my son told me is that they were all tired, fed up and frustrated just waiting there on the boat exposed to the elements.”

At about 4.45 pm, the woman said she was contacted by her son who told her that a team of health officials were on their way to meet them at the port. About 15 minutes later, her son called her back to inform her that they had all disembarked the vessel and were being escorted by the team out onto the jetty.

“I do not know what’s next for them but at least they are off the platform and now off the boat,” she added.

Efforts to reach a company official for comment yesterday proved futile. 

 However, Guardian Media understands that the union representing the workers, the Banking, Insurance and General Workers’ Union (BIGWU), was upset about a non-disclosure policy the company was trying to enforce to get the workers not to disclose the situation to the media.

In an internal memo to workers on the situation, the company warned that workers were not to disclose any information to any third party unless otherwise authorised. In particular, it warned the workers not to divulge information to the media, pointing out that disciplinary action could result.

In a response to the company memo, the Union wrote, “The threatening memorandum by the company is considered an act of trespass on the rights of workers by the union, the issue of the COVID-19 outbreak being one that severely impacts the health, safety and well being of workers and very much a public issue which the union and its branch representatives will not be muzzled on.

“The company will be well advised to withdraw this imperious and offensive missive. Trinidad and Tobago is not a colony or ward of France and Perenco may wish to consider instead how it could assist in meeting reparations to Haiti for the act of pillage committed by France against our Caribbean neighbour and its people over the centuries.”

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