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A Seafarers Role in Collecting Evidence

During Maritime Accidents

A variety of maritime accidents can take place at the sea. As such kind of disasters are
unfortunate in nature and generally involve huge loss of life and property, they are always
followed by detailed investigation along with various legal proceedings.
Any form of information or data which can be helpful in the investigation process is known as
evidence. Seafarers and professionals working on ships play an important role in collecting
evidence which would help to resolve the issue as soon as possible.
Why Should Evidence be Collected?
Evidence that is collected on board ships is considered as proof that tends to establish facts
during investigation. So lets say two ships have met with a collision with each other and the
matter is now in court. In such situation, its the factual evidence or the time statement that
assists the investigators and help judges to come to a decision. In the past, several maritime
disputed facts have been won over on the basis of providing genuine evidence.
Usually, we see disputes/conflicts on board ships, even, during the day-to-day activities.
Irrespective of the kind of dispute, investigation, arbitration, judgment, etc. all call for good
evidence in lieu with the ISM modules. The information that would form an evidence does not
necessarily be documented in log books and time sheets but can also be in the form of
photographs, videos, CDs, or even investigated data from third party experts. This would prove
that the accident is worthwhile and thus eventually save costs and valuable time.
Evidence objective as well as subjective will be analysed by lawyers, investigators, auditors,
insurers, underwriters, consultants, etc. Such facts would be required to be thoroughly
understood including the background data that lead to the casualty. This explains why one is
required to gather as much data as possible including past records, registers, crew data, ships
technical aspects, and data from the safety management systems.
When should seafarers collect evidences?
It is imperative to understand the need of the evidence during an accident on ships. Practically,
whatever data that is available related to the accident should be collected almost immediately
after the incident / accident took place. Some of the useful data that can be collected for
investigation includes daily records in the form of logbooks, daily registers, etc.
Sometimes an accident can be a major one and it may take months or even years to get the
claims settled. There have been cases wherein the parties involved have delayed the process by
taking up defensive roles. Following this, as the delays get instinctive, retrieving credible

information and subsequent data is very much difficult. It is therefore better to start collecting
data as soon as the incident or casualty takes place.
What are the investigators / auditors looking for?
Seafarers need to remember that there would be certain cases or incidents which would involve
different kinds of people with varied backgrounds and not all of them would be well known with
the shipboard life and shipping related operations.
Investigators or auditors in general are interested only in getting as much data as possible to
explore all possibilities that might have led to the maritime incident. They would collect and
safeguard all the factual data that suggests what took place during the accident, although it is
pretty much difficult to figure out what exactly happened.
In a lot of cases, the witnesses are fretful about any blames directed towards them and
accordingly present themselves to stay on safe grounds. Unfortunately, the investigators are not
concerned with human emotions and are in fact more grueling with the people whom they
suspect. Scattered clues are picked up inadvertently throughout the investigation process and
thus it is viable for the investigators to keep the witnesses encouraged in order to give an
accurate feedback.
The Seafarers role in collecting evidence
In cases where loss of life or serious casualties have occurred, or cases where it is assured of
great loss of money; lawyers are proven to be the best scouts. Apart from lawyers who play a
crucial role, the mariners, especially the senior officers play a large role in providing evidences
to the investigation process. The evidence provided by the seafarers makes the investigation all
the more easier as the data is coming from the most reliable sources the mariners.
The mariners can provide valuable information that will assist in handling claims and other
disputes. Evidence provided by the seafarers should be in compliance with explicit rules /
regulations as per the international and company level standards.
The following categories are probably the ones that are used up as basis to good data collection

Complying with the local and international regulations of the IMO such as SOLAS,

Complying Flag State/ Administration requirements

Following Company Policies / SMS, etc.

Also with every single safety management system on board there will be measures identified for
maintaining vital documents accurately, including but not limited to:

Crew details including their Passport and Medical information

Stability information and previous records

Ships certificates

Safety Equipment details and their maintenance /inspection records

Cargo documentation / calculations

Official log book

Deck log books and Engine log books

Movement books (Deck and Engine) including associated print outs

Maintenance records

Garbage and other Environmental management records

In all, seafarers are invariably responsible for gathering data with respect to the vessels day-today activities / operations or during casualty / incident / accident / cargo dispute, etc. Evidence in
the form of photos, videos for real time data, record keeping, notes of protest, statement of facts,
masters reports and likewise any data that might be useful in fault finding and claims settlement
must be taken by seafarers during accidents.