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Marine Safety Investigation in Australia

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) is an independent Commonwealth Government statutory Agency. The Bureau is managed by a Commission and is entirely separate from transport policy makers, industry operators, and transport regulators such as the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA).

The ATSB's function is to maintain and improve safety and public confidence in the marine, aviation and rail modes of transport through excellence in:

  • independent investigation of transport accidents and other safety occurrences
  • safety data recording, analysis and research
  • fostering safety awareness, knowledge and action.

The ATSB conducts 'no blame' marine safety investigations in accordance with the Transport Safety Investigation Act 2003 (TSI Act). The ATSB does not investigate for the purpose of taking administrative, regulatory or criminal action.

Marine safety investigations are carried out in conformity with International Treaties and instruments, including Article 94(7) of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea(UNCLOS), the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention which includes the International Casualty Investigation Code, and the Load Line Convention. Regard is also had to International Maritime Organization (IMO) Resolutions. These international instruments are recognised by the TSI Act.

Does the ATSB investigate all marine accidents?

The ATSB's primary focus is on overseas and interstate shipping. In this jurisdiction the ATSB investigates selectively, as do many equivalent organisations overseas. The aim is to concentrate ATSB's resources on those investigations considered most likely to enhance maritime safety. This approach means the ATSB undertakes about 10 on-site investigations each year, mostly on foreign flag vessels.

When the ATSB investigates a marine accident or incident, investigators will seek to determine its circumstances, identify any safety issues, and encourage relevant safety action. The aim of all ATSB investigations is to prevent the occurrence of other accidents and incidents, rather than to assign blame or liability. This approach helps ensure the continued free flow of safety information for the purposes of improving safety in the future.

Reporting accidents and incidents

As required under the Transport Safety Investigation Regulations 2003 (TSI Regulations), the master of a ship, operator, agent, or pilot of a ship, must report an accident or serious incident as soon as practicable and by the quickest means possible. Reports should be made in accordance with Form 31/14 of the Marine Orders - Part 31: Ship surveys and certification, Issue 6 (known as 'Form AMSA 18' in the industry). It is normal practice for the report to be made to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), who will then refer the report on to the ATSB.

If you wish to report a Marine accident or incident you may contact the Australian Search and Rescue (AusSAR) which is part of AMSA on 1800 641 792 or the ATSB on 1800 011 034.

For more information on reporting, refer to AMSA's website at www.amsa.gov.au or the ATSB's website at www.atsb.gov.au.

The ATSB operates Australia's REPCON Marine Scheme, which offers seafarers the opportunity to report unsafe conditions, practices or procedures aboard ships without fear of being identified. For more information about REPCON Marine, phone 1800 020 505 or e-mail repcon@atsb.gov.au

The investigation

On receiving a report of an accident or serious incident, the ATSB will decide what action to take. Depending on the type and severity this may be:

  • an on-site investigation carried out by ATSB investigators
  • a request for more information from an owner, employer or other party or
  • an entry of accident or incident details into the ATSB's database.

On-site investigations are detailed investigations where investigators from the ATSB attend the vessel involved in the accident or incident or a related premises. The investigators may wish to interview persons directly or indirectly involved in the accident or incident, or to remove and retain relevant documentation and physical evidence for further examination and analysis. It is accepted ATSB protocol that investigators seek to obtain such information or assistance in a manner which encourages cooperation. ATSB investigators will liaise with other parties with an interest, like AMSA, the ship owner/operator /master or the police, to ensure that there is minimal disruption to the operations of the vessel.

Sensitive evidence collected in the course of an investigation is classified as restricted information under the provisions of the TSI Act. The Act contains provisions, which prevent restricted information from being made freely available for purposes other than transport safety. Importantly, these provisions provide self-incrimination immunity for persons who are required to attend before the ATSB under powers of the TSI Act. Information provided under these circumstances cannot be used against the person in criminal or civil proceedings.  Information that is obtained in the course of the investigation including from directly involved parties may be disclosed in the ATSB report. The ATSB will remove information that directly identifies an individual (i.e. names and addresses). However, other indirect identifiers (i.e. times, dates and locations for the occurrence of incidents) will usually be disclosed in the interests of safety. In some situations an individual's position may need to be stated so that reports make sense and safety lessons can be learned by others.

ATSB reports

When an investigation of a marine accident or incident is undertaken, an investigation report is completed for public release.

About 900 copies of each report are printed. These are distributed to the maritime community and educational institutions in Australia, to marine administrations in Australia and abroad, and to several overseas maritime colleges and universities.

All ATSB reports are sent to the IMO. The reports may also be downloaded from the ATSB website www.atsb.gov.au. Readers are encouraged to copy or reprint reports, in part or in whole, for further distribution, acknowledging the source.

Safety action

'Safety action' is the term used to describe any action taken by organisations and individuals in response to the safety issues that were identified during an investigation. The aim of any safety action is to prevent similar accidents and incidents.

The ATSB facilitates safety action by communicating the identified safety issues to the relevant organisations throughout the course of an investigation. The ATSB encourages proactive safety action and will acknowledge such action in its investigation reports.

Formal safety recommendations are normally issued when other attempts to facilitate safety action have been unsuccessful, and the risk level is considered by the ATSB to be either critical or significant. The ATSB has no legislative power to enforce its safety recommendations, but it can require a detailed response which may be made public, regarding the implementation of recommendations.

Coronial inquests into a marine accident

The relevant State or Territory Coroner may hold an inquest into a fatal marine accident. The Coronial inquest and the ATSB investigation are separate but they do interact.

ATSB investigators may be legally required to appear as expert witnesses. A date for an inquest or inquiry is determined by the Coroner.

The Coroner's Office should be contacted on all matters relating to an inquest. Coronial services can also offer assistance and advice, and some Coronial jurisdictions provide grief counselling and other support for relatives by means of trained professionals.

International Maritime Organization

The ATSB is an active member of the International Maritime Organization's Flag State Implementation Sub-Committee. This body analyses serious marine occurrences and refers appropriate reports to the technical sub-committees of the IMO. All ATSB marine reports are passed to IMO for recording in their database and are presented for examination and review by the casualty analysis group at the Flag State Implementation sub-committee.

The ATSB has also prepared separate papers for the IMO that address safety issues such as engine room fires and lifeboat accidents.

The ATSB drafted significant parts of the SOLAS International Casualty Investigation Code and the IMO training program for marine accident investigators.

Other activities

The ATSB liaises with overseas investigation bodies, mainly through the Marine Accident Investigators' International Forum (MAIIF), to promote international cooperation in accident investigation.

Privacy

During the investigation process the ATSB may collect personal information. The ATSB collects personal information for the purposes of investigating transport incidents and accidents. This is authorised by the TSI Act.

The ATSB will use this information for the purposes of the investigation and, subject to the restrictions in the TSI Act may disclose parts of the information to other parties for the purposes of the investigation. The disclosure will also be in accordance with the Australian Privacy Principles under the Privacy Act 1988.

Most personal information held by the ATSB is stored electronically such as on databases, shared drives or in emails, or on hard copy files. The information is held securely and access is limited to ATSB staff that need to access the material to perform their functions.

For more information on the ATSB investigation process visit www.atsb.gov.au where our privacy policy is also available, or ask for a copy of the policy to be provided to you.

 

Type: Corporate Brochure
Publication date: 28 August 2014
 
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Last update 10 March 2016