Marine transport accounts for all bulk imports and exports and nearly three-quarters of the value of all imports and exports of cargo into Australia, and plays a primary role in coastal trade. In addition, a major offshore industry fleet supports oil and gas exploration off the Australian coast. A safe and efficient marine transport system is therefore an essential part of the Australian economy. The work of the ATSB investigation team assists in maintaining and improving the safety of marine transport.

When ATSB investigates a marine accident or incident, investigators seek to determine its circumstances, contributing and other factors, including any safety issues, and encourage relevant safety action. The aim of all ATSB investigations is to prevent accidents and incidents - not 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.

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 accordance with international treaties and instruments. These include the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention (specifically the Casualty Investigation Code), relevant International Maritime Organization (IMO) resolutions and Article 94(7) of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The TSI Act recognises these international agreements and instruments.

The power to prosecute ships' masters and others for breaches of safety and pollution prevention legislation resides with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), the regulatory and administrative body responsible for marine safety in Australia.