Casualty investigation in the eNav era

Jun 22, 2012, 7:00AM EST
Casualty investigation in the eNav era
Marine casualty investigation has changed dramatically in recent years due to the expansion of electronic navigation.

 In olden days, investigation of marine casualties relied heavily on the experience of the investigating officer.  Statements of witnesses, who were almost always interested parties, were incomplete, self-serving, and often contradictory.  Even the positions of involved ships immediately prior to the casualty could frequently not be determined with needed accuracy.  This has largely changed with the advent of electronic navigation.  Vessel traffic systems (VTSs) are in place in most busy ports.  They record radio calls, radar signals, and, increasingly, AIS transmissions.  On the vessels, ECDIS is being placed on ships of any significant size.  While the major feature of ECDIS is the replacement of paper charts, a secondary feature is its ability to record time, position, heading, speed, and other relevant data.  The voyage data recorder, similar to the black box utilized by commercial aircraft, is largely intended for use in marine casualty investigation.  The full version of the VDR keeps a record of information received electronically and automatically from, among other things, the GPS, radar, gyro-compass, speed log, auto-pilot, echo sounder, rudder indicator, engine data logger, anemometer, alarm panel, fire door/watertight door control board, hull door position indicator, and hull stress monitoring equipment.  In addition, it records information received from microphones positioned on the navigation bridge.  Nowadays, one of the first demands of a marine casualty investigator is for full access to the ship’s ECDIS and VDR.  The data obtained from these instruments frequently makes the investigation very straight-forward.  For example, the investigation of the 2007 allision of the container ship Cosco Busan with the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge was simplified when the course, speed, and position of the ship were pinned down, as well as the confusion on the bridge in the period preceding the allision and the incriminating statements recorded immediately thereafter.  The world has shifted, yet again.

 
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Comments
capt. pushpinder singh sandhu
Hi Ken
In the world of VDR & VTS etc.(or e-Nav) There is hardly any scope for frudulent master to hide any fact. Investigations are more transparent and guilty can be nailed without any scope of doubt.
6/27/2012 1:23:13 AM
 
Alan Loynd
I wish it was that atraightforward. In the hands of a clever lawyer, even the most obviously incorrect behaviour can be justified.
Much of the technology was never intended for forensic purposes, even though lawyers analyse it to death, and like all technology, it is often unreliable.
Examples:
- a VDR with several microphones out of order, so only some comments were recorded.
- a pilot says 'ignore him' just before he slams into a small vessel and sinks it. Did he mean the other vessel, or the VTS operator who called him on VHF at around the same time?

In my limited experience, the technology often muddies the waters, especially in criminal cases where the judge has no idea what the mariners are talking about. Such judges feel qualified to consider voice recordings and AIS data, however flawed or corrupted, but show them a manual plot or anything remotely professional and they glaze over.
6/28/2012 3:52:21 PM
 
Dennis Bryant
In my view, you are both correct. In many instances, eNav can provide valuable data concerning a marine casualty that would not otherwise be available. In some instances, though, it may just add to the confusion.
Dennis
6/29/2012 7:54:16 AM