What to expect during a marine accident investigation

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[Posted on March 5th, 2014 by Bill Stewart]

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Every year, the United States Coast Guard maintains records of various types of marine accidents, both commercial and recreational. Depending upon the severity of the accident, an investigation is requested. Our main goal while conducting a marine accident investigation is to prevent similar accidents from occurring in the future. Items we look at during an investigation include the loss of a ship, number of deaths, any serious injuries, any missing persons, material damage to ship and other ships, damage to area marine structures and the possibility of pollution.

After an accident has been reported, our inspectors head out to gather as much evidence as possible. We use this evidence to determine how to proceed with the marine accident investigation.  During the evidence collection process, our investigators will take photographs and video of the scene, vessels involved and any damaged equipment. In addition to photographing evidence, our investigators comb through logbooks, records and verify the qualifications and certificates of the crew.

In addition to evidence collected at the scene of the accident and from the vessels involved, we conduct interviews with witnesses and others directly involved in the incident. We may request to speak with crew, passengers, shore staff and other witnesses. During the interview process, we ask questions about the accident, as well as request any documentation the crew or witnesses may have, including photographs, sound recordings and video.

Our investigators will use the information collected to try and reconstruct the events leading up to the accident. It also helps investigators get an idea of what happened during and immediately after the accident occurred. This makes it possible to determine if the accident could have been prevented. Models, diagrams and landmark charts are used as visual aids in our reconstruction process. Computers and CADD programs help to digitally recreate the boats, structures and events leading up to the accident.

Other items we consideration during a marine accident investigation include looking into any recent safety recalls or reports of faulty equipment. We also check to see if the boat was secured to a dock prior to the accident. We will conduct a mooring analysis to ensure the vessel was tied up properly.

Documentation we use to assist with the investigation process include boat handling books, boat manufacturers owner’s manual, engine owner’s manual and various US Coast Guard instruction materials.

All information collected during the investigation will be used to determine the cause of the accident and who may be responsible. All discoveries will be listed in an investigation report that will be available to all parties involved with the accident, including stockholders and owners. In the final report, our investigators will give their recommendations for preventing similar accidents from occurring in the future.

The investigation is a long process and we make sure to cover everything from start to finish. We take pride in our investigation services, knowing we can help make a difference and hope to prevent similar accidents from happening again.