Rear Admiral Stephen Meyer, who retires as Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents for the UK’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch in August, gives a hint of the enormous pressures facing today’s maritime investigators and the emerging threats to the branch’s independence that will be faced by his successor, Stephen Clinch.
In a farewell message, after eight years at the helm, in the MAIB’s 2009 annual report he writes: “When I joined, I was naïve enough to think that everyone would be on the side of independent investigation, the sole purpose of which was future safety. In fact, few are on our side, as everyone involved in an accident has some form of vested interest, and others often have a particular axe to grind. I have also had to fight to maintain the independence and integrity of the MAIB, and our right to operate free from the growing culture of blame and litigation.
“That we have continued to operate so successfully in the face of such challenges has reinforced our credibility and is, I believe, an important outcome for safety at sea. I have an amazing team in the MAIB who, despite the gruelling nature of constantly working with death and tragedy, have remained positive and enthused.”
Some 1663 marine accidents and incidents were reported to the MAIB in 2009 and covered by its small team of 39 people.and a tiny budget of £4m. Many non-commercial casualties are still going unreported. Says Meyer: ” It is quite evident from the accidents we investigate that safety standards, supervision, training, inspection and enforcement are routinely well below that expected ashore. Although improvements are taking place, these are normally driven by accident investigations conducted by the MAIB and similar organisations in other countries”.
MAIB’s commitment to maritime safety is, unfortunately not shared by all administrations. Cyprus and Belgium have not responded to safety recommendations and a European windlass manufacturer had declined to improve the safety of equipment (Not identified in the MAIB annual report, TTS Kocks Gmbh, ed)