“I am pleased to introduce MAIB’s annual report 2020. It was another busy and successful year for the Branch improving safety at sea by our sustained output of safety investigation reports, safety digests, and safety bulletins despite lock-down conditions affecting work for much of the year. The Branch raised 1,217 reports of marine accidents and incidents and commenced 19 investigations in 2020,” said Capt Andrew Moll in his opening statement.
In 2020, the MAIB published two investigation reports into the collapse of container stacks on large container ships, both of which were transiting the North Pacific Ocean in heavy weather at the time. Such accidents are challenging to investigate due to the multiple inter-related factors involved and that critical evidence could be lost overboard during the accident. There have been more accidents involving large losses of containers since, the most notable being ONE Apus, and more general concerns about large container vessels were already being raised before Ever Given grounded in the Suez Canal earlier this year.
There is no doubt that accidents involving Ultra Large Container vessels will continue to receive intense focus, but it is too early to say what common themes might emerge from accident investigations and whether these could have wider implications for the sector.
On paper, 2020 was a safer year for the UK fishing industry, with only one accident (Joanna C, BM 265) resulting in fatalities. Regrettably, six commercial fishermen’s lives have been lost already in 2021, meaning that eight commercial fishermen have lost their lives in the 6 month period November to May. While the investigations are ongoing, the indications are that five lives were lost as a result of small fishing vessels capsizing or foundering quickly. The MAIB is currently in the process of recovering the wreck of Nicola Faith (BS 58), the most recent small fishing vessel to founder, to establish why the vessel sank and its three crew lost their lives.
The accidents involving leisure and recreational craft that the Branch is investigating are quite varied, but two themes are worth mentioning. As the tragic accident onboard the motor cruiser Diversion demonstrated, lives are still being lost due to carbon monoxide poisoning (see Safety Bulletin 2/2020). There can be many sources of carbon monoxide on a cruising vessel, including the main engines, generators, heaters and cooking appliances. Whatever the source, the presence of carbon monoxide can be detected by a reasonably inexpensive alarm, which will provide ample warning that this odourless, highly toxic gas is present. Owners of craft with enclosed accommodation spaces are strongly advised to fit a carbon monoxide alarm suitable for use in the marine environment, and to test it regularly.
Two accidents involving Personal Watercraft (PWC) and Rigid Inflatable Boats (RIBs) show how vulnerable passengers are to injury when these craft collide or hit stationary objects while travelling at high speed. The collision between a PWC and RIB Rib Tickler, and the RIB Seadogz’s collision with a navigation buoy are still under investigation, but both accidents resulted in fatalities that could have been avoided had a better lookout been kept and larger passing distances maintained.
Accident investigation continued throughout the pandemic, but it was far from business as usual. During parts of the year travel and quarantine restrictions severely curtailed the Branch’s ability to attend accident sites. This resulted in heavy reliance on remote interviewing and third parties to collect physical evidence. Like many others, MAIB staff have become adept at remote working, but the constraints of the remote environment have hindered accident investigation.
Last year saw some staff retire, others take on new responsibilities, and there have been a number of new joiners. Experience levels in some areas dropped while training was carried out and those new to role learned the ropes, though this has been hampered by remote working. The combined effect has been an impact on efficiency and timescales with the result that the average time taken to publish investigation reports has increased to 16 months. At the time of writing this foreword the training backlog is being addressed, and a key objective as the pandemic loosens its grip on business will be to reduce the time taken to deliver investigation reports to normal levels.
On a more positive note: expansion of the Branch’s Technical Team has been completed, broadening the in-house technical skill set and enhancing capacity for horizon scanning; the Business Support team has been re-structured; and for the first time in many years the Branch has a full complement of inspectors. Further, the newly introduced case management system is working well, opening the prospect for data mining and trend analysis to recommence in earnest.
Download the MAIB’s report: MAIB Annual Report 2020