Thirty-one-year-old Max Phillip is the third person to have drowned in a quarry pond over the past year.
In May last year, Paul Soogrim, 13, and his brother, Jason, seven, drowned in a pond at Tapana Road, Valencia. Phillip met a similar fate last Sunday in a pond in an area known as Sand Pit at Windsor Park in Couva.
The ponds created by quarrying activities are deceptively enticing and can easily snare adventurous children, and adults, tempted for a quick dip. Often, when such horrific events occur, public focus falls on the details of the tragedy without reference to the failure of the regulatory authorities to enforce the regulations governing such operations.
In the case of the deaths of the Soogrim brothers, their parents called for “justice” for their sons. A company which had been accused of having dug a pit some 100 feet deep, and illegally removing minerals from the area, was blamed for this particular tragedy. A sign was said to have been posted warning of the dangers of the area, but this soon got covered with moss, residents said.
Aggrieved residents said the place ought to have been fenced around, but this was yet to have taken place.
This is a situation that is replicated in too many parts of the country. It has become an aspect of the culture of brazen, uncaring disregard for the strictures and the laws against illegal activity, regarding the rape of the country’s mineral resources.
State agencies appear perpetually unable or unwilling to enforce the laws, where they do exist.
Section 45 of the country’s Minerals Act provides for hefty fines and/or jail sentences for some of these offences. For example, for a first offence of knowingly purchasing mineral material from any person who is not the holder of an appropriate licence, or who himself or herself trades in such material, one is liable to a fine of up to $500,000 on a first conviction, or a jail term of up to five years. These penalties are increased for repeat offenders.
Similar penalties are in existence for those breaching the laws against illegal and unauthorised mining of asphalt. Failure to notify the Director of Minerals of the discovery of any minerals for which an issued official licence does not provide also carries substantial penalties. Likewise, the obstruction of the Director of Minerals or any of his or her agents in the exercise of his or her duties, or failure to maintain books, records or documents required for their activities, carries severe penalties.
Also empowered to address punitively many of these wanton infractions is the Environmental Management Authority. It must balance the equation between the ongoing impetus for development with the equally heightened necessity for environmental management and protection.
Whatever the nature of the weaknesses inherent in the operations of the regulatory agencies, however, there is clear need for deeper focus on protection, and respect for the applicable laws.
This latest tragedy reinforces the need for a full investigation, not only on the drowning but on the operation itself to determine the bona fides of the quarry operator.
Justice demands it.