What to Know About Marine Accident Investigation

Marine accidents provide dangers not only to those involved but also to the environment where the accident occurs. The severity of these accidents and their far-reaching impact is the subject of various investigatory bodies. Their objective is to uncover the cause of the accident, what factors were attributable to human versus natural causes, and what long ranging effects the accident will have.

Understanding the nature of marine accidents is important to preventing them from happening in the future. Marine accident investigations can be useful in the development of preventive new technologies and safer ship designs to lessen an accident’s impact on the environment.

How Marine Accidents are Investigated 

Marine accident investigations – MAIs – take place whenever an incident involving a freighter cargo ship, fishing trawler, or other type of sea vessel occurs. Incidents subject to reporting and investigation range from vessels running aground to collisions to onboard fires and explosions. These may involve a single vessel or several vessels.

In the United States, it is the role of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to investigate all accidents involving U.S. based vessels or those that are involved in accidents near U.S. waters. The NTSB provides information regarding the name of the vessel, date of the accident, date of the accident report (which is the result of the investigation), and accident location. A PDF report with a summary is provided to give the public information about the types of marine accidents that take place and the results of the investigation. Accidents involving recreational boaters generally are investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard, who compile and publish statistics on their website.

Example of the Marine Accident Report Provided by the NTSB

Eighteen Marine Accident Reports (MAR) to date have been completed and placed on the NTSB’s public website. In one example, on December 5, 2011, the M/V Maersk Wisconsin was involved in a collision with a tug and barge unit near Bergen Point, New Jersey. The Wisconsin was being towed through the navigable channel at Kill Van Kull from New York Harbor, on its way to the United Arab Emirates. Reduced visibility from fog caused the Wisconsin and the tug and barge to collide in the channel.

The MAR, which was completed 16 months after the event, indicated that the likely cause of the collision was the failure of the Wisconsin’s docking pilot to properly position the vessel in the channel. The format of the report and information provided is indicative of the work done during an MAI to ensure that measures can be taken to prevent recurrence of a particular type of maritime accident.

Environmental Impact of Marine Accidents 

A compilation of catastrophic shipping events over a 15-year period (1997-2012) shows the correlation between key maritime accidents and corresponding changes in maritime law to address these events. The majority of the incidents that occurred during the 15-year study indicate higher losses of vessels in the Mediterranean Sea (12 percent), near Japan (21 percent), and China (25 percent) than in other parts of the world. General cargo and multipurpose vessels (72 percent) experienced higher rates of detention for potential concerns than any other type of marine vessel.

Understanding where marine accidents occur, the types of ships often involved, and the likely cause of such accidents are important conclusions in the marine accident investigation process. Making worldwide shipping safer and less harmful to the environment benefits both the industry and society at large.

Jared Middleton writes on a variety of topics related to boating, boating accidents, boat mechanics and marine life. Jared encourages readers to click here to learn more about marine accident investigation.

Freelance legal writer based in the greater metro area of Seattle, WA.
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