Whenever a shipping accident happens and comes under the purview of the M S Act as a shipping casualty, the Master, the Pilot or the person in-charge of the ship at the time of the casualty is required to give notice of this casualty to officers appointed by the government under Section 358 (2) of the M S Act. The proper officers appointed by the government are notified in the official gazette.
Investigations & Enquiries – Preliminary inquiry: – When an officer appointed under the Act receives information about the Shipping casualty, he is required to conduct a Preliminary inquiry into the accident. The purpose of the preliminary enquiry is to establish the following:-
- a shipping casualty has occurred within the meaning of the act,
- the details of the voyage leading to the casualty
- The events that led to the casualty
- The extent to which loss of life or loss of property has occurred due to the shipping casualty.
- The causes that led to the casualty including acts of incompetency, negligence or misconduct of the person / persons concerned.
- The preliminary inquiry, which is held under Section 359 of the M.S.Act, is a departmental inquiry and the proceedings of such enquiries are not released to the public.
- In conducting the preliminary inquiry, the inquiry officer has the following responsibilities:
- To inform the central government and the state government concerned where necessary of the details of the shipping causalities occurring within their jurisdiction. To go on board the Ship and inspect the same including machinery and equipment but not unnecessarily detaining or delaying her from proceedings on any voyage. to enter and inspect any premises to facilitate the completion of the preliminary inquiry.
- To summon persons he thinks fit to take statement to complete the preliminary inquiry.
- To demand the production of all logbooks, documents or papers he considers necessary for the inquiry.
- To submit a report to the central government.
If any person refuses to attend and answer or to produce necessary evidence or impede the inquiry officer should call his attention to the powers given to him. Incase he still refuses, he can take action under Chapter X of the Indian Penal Code
Persons who may be present at the examination: – Where the owner or agent of a ship, a casualty to which is being investigated, signifies his desire to be present during the inquiry, he may be permitted to be present but only while witnesses belonging to the ships in which he is directly interested but only while witnesses belonging to his ships in which he is directly interested are being examined and he must be requested to remain silent. He may take note of evidence, if he desires but should not interfere examination of a witness. Barring this, no person is to be present in the room during the examination of the witness excepting the deponent, the officer conducting the inquiry and his clerk and if necessary an interpreter. Professional lawyers are not admitted into the proceedings of preliminary inquiry.
Whenever it appears that the event leading to a ship casualty, demand a formal investigation by the court, the Director General of Shipping by virtue of powers delegated to him under Section 360 of M.S. Act may direct the same to be held. On receipt of the order of the Director General the proper officer shall make an application to the court as empowered under Section 361. The objective of the court empowered under Section 361 is not to punish anyone who may have been at fault but to throw light on the cause of the causality and to consider steps to prevent such causalities in future. Only first class Magistrates is empowered to conduct these formal investigations.
The courts are assisted by assessors possessing the requisite technical knowledge and are independent of all the interest concerned. The assessors are appointed by the court out of the list, which is maintained by the Directorate.
Where formal investigation involves or appears likely to involve any question regarding cancellation or suspension of Certificate of Competency of Master, Mate or Engineer, the court shall be assisted by not less than 2 assessors having the requisite experience in Merchant Marine Service.
Apart from the officer on whose application the investigation is undertaken and any person upon whom a notice of investigation has been served any other interested parties may be permitted to appear at investigation and become a party to the proceedings.
On the appointed time and place for holding the investigation the court can proceed with investigation, whether the parties upon whom notices of investigation have been served are present or not.
Report of the court.
Unless the cancellation or suspension of any officers’ certificate is not involved, the court need not tell its decision in open court. It may sent or deliver to the parties a copy of the report as required by Section 369 of the M.S. Act to be transmitted to the central government. The court should submit its report to the central government in duplicate. Where the cancellation of suspension of officer’s certificate of Competency is involved, the court may deliver its decision in open court and also send or deliver to the parties a copy of the report to be transmitted to the central government. When the certificate is suspended and the court has recommended that a certificate of lower grade should he issued, the same shall be issued by the Directorate General of Shipping through the Principal Officer concerned.
Powers to cancel Certificate of Competency. The Certificate of competency may also be cancelled by central government under provision of Section 377 of the M.S. Act.