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.

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.

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.

The ATSB allocates its investigative resources to be consistent with the following broad hierarchy of marine operation types:  

  • passenger operations  
  • freight and other commercial operations  
  • non-commercial operations

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.

For more information on reporting, refer to AMSA's website at

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.

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.

International cooperation

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