Enacting the Safety-at-Sea-Investigation-Act (SUG) in June 2002, the international statutory provisions about a governmental marine casualty investigation was transposed into German law. At the same time, the Federal Bureau of Maritime Casualty Investigation (BSU) was established as the national authority responsible for marine casualty investigation in Germany. In 2011, the SUG was extensively revised in order to integrate the regulations newly added at the European level and separate the marine casualty investigation from the similar aviation accident investigation.
The BSU is a higher federal authority subordinated to the Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport based in Hamburg in the office building of the Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency. The BSU is headed by a director and staffed by 13 people, seven of which are acting as investigators. The annual budget amounts to a total of just over 1 Mio Euros. All expenses, i.e. human resources, business trips as well as material expenses are covered by that amount.
The objective of an investigation is an extensive representation and analysis of the accident occurrence with the purpose of preventing future accidents. All direct and immediate causes, contributing factors as well as the overall circumstances, including possible rescue measures, should be considered. According to the said law, the BSU is thereby guided by a so called “No Blame Approach” (approach without apportioning blame). Therefore the investigation does not serve the purpose of determining blame, liability or other claims.
The BSU is responsible for investigating marine casualties involving seagoing vessels of all flags within German territorial waters, marine casualties occurring during traffic operations on German navigable waterways and from, to and in ports connected to them, and in certain cases also within the German exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Outside these areas, the BSU investigates marine casualties on or involving seagoing vessels flying the German flag, or when the Federal Republic of Germany has a justified interest in investigating a marine casualty abroad. Since 2011, the SUG distinguishes four categories of marine casualties – incidents, less serious marine casualty, serious marine casualty and very serious marine casualty. As far as the latter are concerned, the BSU is obliged to conduct an investigation.
After receipt of an accident notification, the director of the BSU and in case of his absence, the deputy director, makes the decision as to whether an investigation is being conducted and generally assigns a team of two investigators the task of further investigating the accident. In making this decision and in clarifying further questions of the investigation, the BSU is not subject to instructions whatsoever. The BSU exercises extensive rights for the purpose of clarifying the accident occurrence, inter alia, with respect to the access to the scene of the accident, securing of evidence and analysis, interviewing of witnesses and calling in experts. These rights are not limited to the parties directly involved in the accident occurrence (the ship and her crew and pilots), but may also be claimed against third parties (such as vessels operators, yards or classification societies) or public authorities (i.e. Waterways and Shipping Administration or Ship Safety Division).
A crucial cornerstone of the BSU activities is the co-operation with the colleagues of the European and international marine casualty investigation authorities. The BSU conducts joint investigations with international investigation authorities on the basis of European and according to international law. These investigations may be limited to the assistance of other investigation authorities or may extend to a complete joint investigation and final report.
The BSU investigations, irrespective of whether conducted alone or in cooperation with other States, are generally concluded with the publication of an investigation report in German and English. Prior to the publication, the investigation reports are made available to all parties and persons involved, which then are given the opportunity to comment on the investigation report within a time limit prescribed by law. This is to ensure that justified objections may be included in the final investigation report, before the report is made available to the public. The safety recommendations developed in the course of the investigation constitute the final and crucial element of the investigation reports. Safety recommendations aim at taking appropriate measures to prevent future accidents and are therefore addressed to the appropriate addressees. In addition, this may also apply to single persons, companies or associations.
According to the law, the BSU is obliged to subsequently monitor the safety recommendations issued. For this purpose, the addressees are contacted within an appropriate time limit, generally 6 months, and asked for information as to whether and how they implemented the recommendations. However, it is to be stressed that the BSU, which actions are guided by the philosophy of a modern safety partnership does not have any enforcement power whatsoever.
3. International Cooperation
Besides the joint investigations of multiple states just mentioned, the BSU does also value a confident international cooperation. BSU representatives attend meetings of all investigation authorities worldwide (MAIIF) or in Europe (EMAIIF) or the BSU delegates experts to committees of inquiry of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), United Nations, or to the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) as far as topics affecting the BSU are concerned. This does not only serve the purpose of intensifying the mutual networking of the experts and public authorities but also supports the legal development on an international level and working towards joint standards.
Further information, particularly extensive data material or statistics are available in the respective annual report.