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Casualty Investigations

Under Section 159 of The Merchant Shipping Act (2021 Revision), and the Merchant Shipping (Marine Casualty Reporting and Investigation) Regulations, 2018, the Owner or Master of a vessel is required to report any accident resulting in loss of life or serious injury to any person. The Owner or Master is also required to report any material damage to the vessel, which may affect its seaworthiness, and any pollution incident.

The Maritime Authority of the Cayman Islands (MACI) investigates marine accidents involving Cayman Islands vessels worldwide and all vessels located in Cayman Islands’ territorial waters. All investigations are conducted on behalf of the Minister who is responsible for maritime matters under the the Merchant Shipping Act. They are independent of the operations of the Cayman Islands Shipping Registry. An independent body appointed by the Minister under regulation 23 of the Merchant Shipping (Marine Casualty Reporting and Investigation) Regulations, 2018 oversees all investigations.

In addition, under Memorandum of Understanding, the UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) carries out investigations on behalf of the Minister into very serious marine accidents occurring on Cayman Islands ships and yachts that are subject to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) Casualty Investigation Code.

The sole objective of any MACI or MAIB investigation is to ascertain the causes and circumstances of a particular accident in order to prevent future accidents. Neither MACI nor the MAIB apportion blame or liability. MACI and MAIB fulfil their mandate by examining incidents, investigating any wider implications for safety at sea and publishing the investigation reports. These may lead to MACI or the MAIB making safety recommendations to relevant people or organisations including the Cayman Islands Shipping Registry (CISR), the classification societies, owners/operators and others. Before publication, the draft reports are sent out to anyone whose reputation may be adversely affected so they have the opportunity to correct any factual inaccuracies in the draft report.

Investigations are conducted in accordance with the Code of the International Standards and Recommended Practices for a Safety Investigation into a Marine Casualty or Marine Incident, as adopted by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

A person appointed by the Minister as an inspector of marine casualties has legal powers under both the Merchant Shipping Act and subordinate legislation which include the right to interview anyone they consider to have information relevant to the investigation.

What has to be reported and what can be investigated

MACI and CISR have published a Shipping Notice that gives guidance on accidents and other incidents that need to be reported.  When an accident is reported, MACI does an evaluation to determine what further action is necessary.  Not all accidents are formally investigated, but an accident involving either the loss of one or more lives, the total loss of the ship, or severe damage to the environment MUST be fully investigated under the IMO Casualty Investigation Code.

Most “minor” accidents are not formally investigated, but their details are recorded for statistical purposes. Any accident can be investigated if MACI feels that important safety lessons can be learned.

After the accident occurs and the decision is made to investigate, the investigation may be conducted by one the following mechanisms.

A Formal Investigation

One option is a Formal Investigation into the accident by a Board appointed by the Minister. Such a Board consists of a Grand Court judge (or a magistrate) and two or more assessors.

The rules for conducting a Formal Investigation govern witness summonsing, hearing of evidence, the process of how facts are proved, and the persons allowed (or required) to appear.

On completion of the Formal Investigation, the Board reports to the Minister. This process is usually reserved for the most serious of marine casualties that generally involve multiple loss of lives or extreme damage to the environment.

Full Investigations

In most cases when an accident involves the loss of life, a Full Investigation is conducted.  This involves specialist accident investigators visiting the accident site to collect evidence and interview witnesses.  All evidence is analysed and once a conclusion is determined, recommendations may be made. A Full Investigation takes between five months to a year to complete.  Upon completion of the investigation, a report is prepared and made public, and is available on this website and in the IMO's GISIS system.

Preliminary Investigations

When the circumstances surrounding an accident do not warrant a Full Investigation, a Preliminary Investigation may be carried out.  These investigations usually require the Owner or Master to provide additional information to establish a fuller picture of the incident. If the Preliminary Investigation uncovers evidence that a Full Investigation is warranted, the investigation will be “upgraded” to a Full Investigation and conducted as above.