Monday, August 30, 2010
On Friday August 20th at around 12:30pm the BP owned/managed deep water oil rig, Constellation, which is the furthest rig off Trinidad's south east coast, suffered an electrical failure. By that I mean that all electricity on the rig was completely lost. As I understand it, a complete failure of electrical power to an oil rig is potentially very dangerous because amongst other things there can be no monitoring of the oil and gas lines and there can be an unobserved or un-monitored build up of pressure in the pipeline which can result in an explosion. And we are only too painfully aware of what happened to a BP rig in the Gulf of Mexico. It is sometimes forgotten that not only was there the worst oil spill in history, but something like eleven workers lost their lives in that explosion.
I do not know why there was a loss of power on the Constellation rig. In other words, I do not know whether the loss of power was as the result of poor maintenace of the generators, whether it was the result of human error, or whether it was completely unavoidable ... one of those things that no matter what you do it's going to happen. What I do know is that BP was unable to get the power going on the rig until some eleven hours later (more or less). Power was finally restored around 11:30pm.
So, what's the big deal? Well, the big deal as far as I am concerned is that there were about a hundred and twenty-five men on board the rig when power was lost just after mid day. BP did
not make the call to the helicopter services to evacuate the men until about 6:30pm ... just at around sunset. And as a result, the first helicopters did not arrive at the rig to begin evacuating the men until around 8:30pm. In addition calling late, the weather was very bad. One helicopter pilot told me "well, I earned my salary for the last three years" on that Friday night. He said that the wind and rain hampered the helicopter rescue. I asked him when was the latest that (in his professional opinion) that BP should have made the call for the helicopters. "About 4:30pm", he said. So why didn't they call before, I asked? Should they have been aware of the approaching bad weather and shouldn't they have been concerned to have got the men off the rig as quickly as possible? He said that he preferred not to speculate as to why BP didn't act earlier, but that yes, anybody in that business, in that situation ought to have been aware of the approaching bad weather, the approaching darkness, the time that it would take to evacuate the rig, and the danger to the men remaining on the rig without electricity. If there was no danger to the men then there would have been no need to mount an expensive rescue operation. He said that when power was finally restored the helicopters had removed all save about ten or eleven men.
There are obviously very serious questions to answer here. There is also a very serious need to monitor not only BP but all of the oil companies operating in our waters. Are they (the oil companies) cutting corners when it comes to safety? Are they paying close attention to the safety of their workers? What about the potential for pollution? The matter is serious and quite frankly I consider it a matter of grave concern that BP made no statement whatsoever on this near disaster. (At least, if they did I saw nothing of it in the newspapers.) One inference to be drawn is that the company did not want to draw attention to it and thereby avoid potentially embarassing and troubling questions. But, is the avoiding of having to answer potentially emabarrassing questions more important than the health and safety of a human life?
Friday, August 27, 2010
The answer seems to be when he is a Roman Catholic priest. In July 1972 there was an IRA bombing in the Northern Ireland town of Claudy which killed nine people. This week the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland has published a report that says that a Father James Chesney was believed by the police to have been the IRA's director of operations in south Derry and was directly responsible for the Claudy bombings.
The report goes further and says that the then Secretary for Northern Ireland Willie Whitelaw basically conspired (there is no other word for it) with Cardinal Conway, who was the Cardinal for Ireland, not to arrest and try Father Chesney but to allow him to be transferred to a parish in Ireland, out of the reach of British police and the law.
No matter how you look at this it is an absolute scandal and a serious disgrace. This is yet another mortal sin that the Catholic Church is guilty of ... proving, I suppose, the point that while the Church may not be corrupt, there certainly are a lot of very corrupt men in it.
But that is not the point of this particular post. Today we have to deal with terrorism coming from another religious front: Islam. Let me say unequivocally that I fundamentally disagree with, and condemn fanatics like Osama Bin Laden and his ilk. And all those Imams who preach jihad at their mosques every Friday are anything but holy. They are fundamentally wrong in their advocacy of violence and the sooner all right thinking peoples tell them so and turn away from them the better.
I hear a lot of people criticising Islam for the extremists in the midst of right thinking and decent Moslems around the world, but there is a dreadful silence in the Christian community when it is shown that some Christian Churches not only condone violence but actively participate in murder. We are not going to solve the problem of Islamic terrorism unless and until we are prepared to "remove the mote" from our own eyes (as I believe some rather famous revolutionary advocated some two thousand years ago). Hypocritical behaviour is always noticed and causes more, not less, problems.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
POLITICS OF IMPOVERISHMENT
It is often difficult when you win an election by an overwhelming majority to keep up with all the rhetoric that you splurged out during the campaign as well as to keep your campaign promises. Reality has a way of biting when all of a sudden you find yourself like the dog who was chasing the car and all of a sudden you have caught it! What do you do? What does the dog do? I'm sure you get the point.
The new Kamla Persad-Bissessar Government has not exactly hit the ground running. Oh sure, many Ministers were there for their constituents when the floods hit, and it is clear that this response (to the flooding) was a million times better than the casual, 'don't really care but we'll go through the motions any way' attitude of the PNM Ministers when they held the reins of power. But empathy, blankets and matteresses, and (well deserved) "cussing" of the ODPM only goes so far. It has now been a little over three months since Kamla's historic victory and ... well, if truth be told, nothing of any consequence seems to have happened. The new State boards are not in place, the new ambassadors are not yet appointed and their is a general sense or feeling of drift. The Minister of Finance is not saying anything of any consequence and the whole country is just sitting and waiting. And the question has to be asked: why? What is taking so long? Why are we not at the very least being brought into the picture?
One can't help but compare that other recently elected coalition Government in the United Kingdom with ours. They brought in almost immediately what theyd eclared to be an emergency budget to save the country from disaster. Although the budget contained many very harsh measures (e.g., VAT was raised to 20 per cent) the population accepted that austerity was called for and that the new Government was taking the bull by the horns and working. We have been hearing that things are bad, but how bad? Do we really have to wait for maore than three months to get a report in the budget debate that begins on September 8th? Why? Why can't we be told up front and early? Does the Government not trust the people?
And as if this is not bad enough, Keith Rowley appears to be floundering as Leader of the Opposition. Why is this a bad thing? Because the best governance usually takes place when a Government in power has a competent Opposition snapping at its heels. A classic example of this was the Panday regime. Basdeo Panday's Government is widely regarded as one of the best that we have ever had. But Panday knew at all times that if he made the slightest slip that Manning's PNM would come charging back ... which, of course, is precisely what happened when he did eventually slip!
But Dr. Rowley just hasn't cut it as a leader. One wag told me (rather unkindly) that he never thought that anyone could make Manning look good, but Rowley is managing to do just that! Dr. Rowley has not been able to find his "groove" either inside or outside of the Parliament. His early cricicisms of Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar came across as peurile and downright silly. Nobody took either the criticisms or Dr. Rowley seriously. His Senate appointments have made no impression whatsoever on the public and whatever opposition that exists in the Senate is more on the Independent benches than any where else.
Well, the Budget debate is coming soon and everybody on both sides of the Parliamentary divide will have his/her chance to show the nation how good, bad or indifferent he or she may be. Based on performance to date, I believe that the Government side will do better than the Rowley led Opposition both in the Lower House as well as the Upper one. The PNM Parlaimentarians tend to believe that the length of their speeches is more important than the content. (Actually, that criticism probably applies to more than a few on the Government side as well.) We would be much better off there really was clearly an alternative Government. Unfortunately, there isn't ... at least, not at the moment. And therein lies the rub!
At least we can hope that this three month long hiatus will finally come to an end and things will get moving again. The only test for leadership is to lead, and to lead vigourously. We need leadership now. That Kamla and her team are capable, I truly believe. But they have got to start performing now.