The incident over the weekend in which close to 40 Perenco Trinidad and Tobago Limited offshore workers reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 must certainly be raising alarm bells for Ministry of Health officials.

Even more shocking are reports yesterday from workers still on the platform that there remain suspected active cases on duty. Should this be the case, both the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Energy, under whose aegis such an operation falls, need to immediately investigate this matter and take the necessary corrective action.

The ramifications of the fallout from this incident could have dire consequences for the country, since, if we are to take the workers at their word, some of them may have possibly contaminated both only family and friends but other support service workers before the virus was detected. Furthermore, the company also has within its ranks French nationals who also function on the platform. This adds another major dynamic to the situation, since France is now trying to protect its citizens from the newest strain of the virus recently detected in Britain and now feared to be spreading to other parts of Europe.

But what is even more disturbing is that an incident like this would still be happening in the manner it is being reported within major operations like Perenco’s.

This is because the threshold for meeting pandemic safety requirements within the oil and gas sector is even higher than normal due to the fact that the workers operate in close proximity to each other and also live in close quarters for much of their tours of duties on platforms. Things like ensuring testing and the quarantining of new shifts of workers before they pick up duty, temperature checks, ensuring that there is physical distancing within the workers’ living quarters and common areas and daily testing of workers on the rigs are even more critical than before and have been mandated in new international standards to ensure against the spread of the virus.

Perenco went on record yesterday as saying it initiated its Emergency Response Procedure once the initial batch of workers tested positive. However, in a release that did not divulge much, little else was said about how the virus made its way offshore if the proper protocols were followed onshore. The Ministry of Health’s update on daily cases also did not refer to the Perenco incident, as it did with other super spreader events previously.

Perenco is the first reported incident of a major outbreak on an offshore facility here in Trinidad and Tobago. Other major local oil and gas companies have so far avoided such incidents. But if we are to keep this as the first and last, a thorough and transparent probe of what went wrong, monitored by health officials, must ensue and any gaps rectified. Given that Petrotrin and the National Gas Company are also partners with Perenco, we also hope John Public is kept in the loop about what really transpired, if not from Perenco, then from either Energy Minister Franklin Khan or Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh.