Accuracy is absolutely crucial in marine accident investigation because the stakes are so high. In fact, people’s lives can depend on the investigation revealing the true reason for the accident.
Civil or Criminal Liability
The results of the investigation can also make or break a shipping company, contractor or broker. With some marine contracts imposing unlimited liability for accidents resulting in pollution, there is a great deal at stake. An inaccurate investigative report can have several undesirable consequences.
First, any party can dispute the findings. This can lead to a lengthy legal action in which costs mount up for all parties, including those who were not at fault. When presented with an accident report that is clearly based on multiple objective data sources and expert summary, many parties will decide that any attempt to falsely represent the facts is hopeless, and will opt to settle.
Second, if the report is badly prepared, not based on objective evidence, or overly reliant on a limited number of sources, it may reach the wrong conclusion about the causes of the accident. This can have devastating consequences. An accurate investigation report, particularly if there has been a fatality, will contain recommendations for remediation of processes, training or equipment that will help to prevent the accident from happening again.
If the report is inaccurate, poorly researched or biased, the opportunity to learn is lost. The poor practices that actually caused the accident are not identified, and the chances of another occurrence are greatly increased. This means that employees and others are put at risk unnecessarily.
Where there has been a fatality or other serious incident, the matter may not simply be a civil litigation issue. Criminal charges may be involved, and the expert investigators may be cross-examined on the reasons behind their conclusions.
Expert Reports are Auditable
It is, therefore, essential that when an expert marine investigator prepares a report, he or she identifies all the sources for the information presented. This means that the report is auditable and that a court, government body, or insurer is able to check back and verify the conclusion that has been reached.
Top-level accident investigation companies such as LOC are able to draw together a large number of information sources to build a complete picture of what has happened. One of the key requirements is to establish accurate timing and location data because this can affect which jurisdiction the vessel was in. The investigator will draw on raw data from the ship’s instrumentation records, audio and video data tracks and other sources to produce a highly accurate model of the events and times leading up to the accident and the actions taken in response to both the hazard and the incident.
Witnesses will also be interviewed where appropriate. Because many accidents happen at night, witness information can be partial or flimsy. This is why an accurate, data-based accident report compiled by an expert investigator carries such weight with courts, insurers and the shipping industry.