It’s an unfortunate fact that some shippers, brokers and operators only discover when they get to court that the marine accident investigation they ordered has not been carried out to the highest standard and the opposing party has employed investigators who have more professional expertise, better data and more rigorous processes.

How do you discriminate between an investigation service which results in a technically accurate and coherent presentation of the causes behind an accident, and a service which is only presenting a partial picture that will collapse as soon as someone knowledgeable probes the evidence behind it?

What Distinguishes a High-Quality Investigation?

A professional investigation service will employ marine investigators who have considerable experience of investigations in many different contexts and locations. They’ll be highly qualified and able to collate large amounts of data to produce a unified picture. These professionals will need to be backed up by technology and systems which give them the tools to cross-reference and analyse many different digital data sources

AIS (Automatic Identification Systems) need to be used by investigators who understand properly how they work and what their limitations are. You should also expect the investigator to be familiar with the Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS), Voyage Data Recorders (VDR) and, of course, GPS and other systems.

Professionals who are experts in interpreting the data from these systems can use it to analyse the exact details and timing of a marine accident. They’ll be able to chart the information electronically and plot several ships, drawn to scale, showing each ship’s AIS track, so that there is clear evidence to support or reject collision claims.

Of course, some ships don’t have AIS, and in this case the investigator will be able to replay any radar recordings, overlaying them so that they track the ship’s position on the chart.

Multiple Data Sources to Give Intelligent Analysis

Technically expert investigators will also be able to overlay multiple data sources on to charts to give further intelligence about the actual reasons underlying the accident. This data can come from numerous sources, such as Google Earth, maps, plans, charts and photographs. Every aspect of the accident will be integrated into the investigative picture. So, for example, the direction of the wind and its speed, water depth and rudder movements will all be included, and the investigator will prepare separate gauge or graph formats for the rudder and engine data.

Audio recordings are also a very important part of the investigation, and both the VHF radio recordings and the bridge audio will be available for replay and comparison with the accident scenario that the investigator is assembling. Video recording is also becoming increasingly important. Many ports now have CCTV installed, and smartphone footage is often available from observers or witnesses.

These and other information sources allow a professional investigator to construct a scenario that explains the causes of the accident but is sufficiently backed by robust data and methods to withstand challenge and possible cross-examination in court.