Shipboard Accident Response

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Protection and Indemnity (P&I) Clubs insure shipowners and managers for their liabilities to third parties arising out of the operation of ships. The P&I Club does not insure the hull or machinery of a ship, only liabilities. The main elements of P&I cover addressed in this guide are:

  • personal injuries to crew, stevedores and passengers;
  • physical damage caused to docks, fixed or floating objects and collision damage caused to other ships;
  • pollution; cargo loss or damage, which occurs when the cargo is in the custody of the ship;
  • stowaway and ship security problems.

Basic Advice

In the event of an incident or allegation, which gives, or may give, rise to a P&I problem there are certain actions, which you should always take, and certain actions, which you should never take. The checklists, which follow, are designed to help you to remember what to do and who to call.


  • keep your owner or manager informed;
  • call the local P&I correspondent;
  • investigate every allegation of injury, damage, or pollution;
  • collect any evidence or documentation relating to the incident, including any defective equipment. Store it in a safe place and label clearly the pieces of evidence. Throw nothing away;
  • take photographs of any damage or conditions relating to the incident;
  • instruct witnesses to write notes of what they themselves saw or heard and to draw a diagram, if appropriate. This should be done as soon as possible after the incident. Write personal notes about the incident yourself ; (See below -Notes)
  • seek the advice of the P&I correspondent before issuing a written statement or report;
  • if an injury has occurred, complete your company’s accident report form and make an entry in the ship’s log;
  • limit any report to facts, not personal opinions.


  • allow a surveyor or lawyer on board the ship or to interview crew members, until he has identified himself and produced appropriate authorization to satisfy you that he is acting for your owner or your P&I Club ; (See below – Notes)
  • allow surveyors or lawyers acting for opposing parties on board, unless accompanied by a surveyor or lawyer acting for your owner;
  • give written material or physical evidence to opposing lawyers or surveyors. If in doubt, do not hand anything to anyone;
  • give an opinion, especially in the accident report, as to who or what was responsible;
  • allow crew members to express opinions;
  • admit liability, either verbally or in writing;
  • sign a document, which you know contains incorrect information;
  • think the problem will go way if you do nothing.


  • You will need these notes during the formal interview with the local correspondent or Club-appointed lawyer to help you remember what occurred.
  • The importance of preventing strangers from visiting the ship and collecting information cannot be over-emphasised. However, there may be circumstances where it is impossible for you to prevent this from happening.

Collection of Evidence

Remember that the evidence relating to the incident is likely to be found on board the ship and that this evidence will be needed by the Club to defend claims which are received from injured persons, the owners of damaged cargo or property, or from a terminal operator.

Ships’ masters have an important role – the collection of evidence, which will help the Club to evaluate the damage and to establish liability. The golden rule is that evidence should be collected, recorded and preserved. Memories fade. It is therefore imperative to write notes on how the incident occurred as soon as possible after the event. This guide will help you to determine what information is needed. ‘The Mariner’s Role in Collecting Evidence’, published by the Nautical Institute, also contains detailed lists of the information, which is required to defend particular claims. This publication is recommended to all ships’ masters.

Death or Injury

Whenever there is a death, injury or even an allegation of injury on board, or in the vicinity of the ship, always informs the local Club correspondent, regardless of whether the injured person is a crewmember.

General Procedures

  • always investigate and complete your company’s accident report form (for all accidents not just for crew injuries);
  • report the incident to your owner or manager;
  • other than completion of your company’s accident report form, never make a formal statement or express an opinion as to what occurred. Complete your accident report form but do not give any other statement except to the lawyer appointed by the Club. This will be privileged and cannot be used against your employer in court;
  • in the event of injury following an accident:
  • in port, notify your owner or manager and the P&I correspondent;
  • at sea, notify your owner or manager, obtain radio medical advice;
  • as well as completing the accident report, write a detailed description of what occurred (these notes will help to refresh your memory during the subsequent interview with a lawyer); – ask witnesses to write a detailed description of what they saw or heard (you will need a special form for this, which is supplied by your owner or manager);
  • if ship’s equipment or the ship’s structure was involved in the injury, examine the equipment, take photographs of the place where the accident is said to have occurred (and record the time and the date of photographs), retain and properly label broken pieces. Afterwards, obtain a copy of the maintenance record of the equipment and any applicable tests;
  • conduct an inspection of the location where the accident occurred with the Club’s appointed surveyor or local correspondent;
  • always keep detailed records of all medical treatment given on board and any independent advice received.

Collisions and Property Damage

General Procedures

  • alert your owner or manager, the relevant authority and the P&I correspondent. Advise them of the other ship’s name and port of registry, details of the property damaged, and the date, time and location where the incident occurred. Outline the extent of the damage, and whether injury or pollution has occurred. The Club will invariably investigate the incident to find out the cause and who is to blame. To assist the Club you will need to assemble the information as set out below:
    • instruct those on watch (on the bridge and in the engine room) and any other potential witnesses on board to make personal notes regarding the incident as soon as possible, but they should note down only the facts;
    • copies of navigation charts which detail courses and positions for a period of at least sixty minutes before the collision and rough bridge notes;
    • printouts, with times, from the GPS, course recorder, engine log, and echo sounder;
    • rough bridge notebook, radar, gyro, radio and weather logs;
    • standing orders/night orders;
    • the passage plan and pilot card (if relevant) with details of additional information, which may have been passed between the master and the pilot;
    • names and the position of tugs, which are ‘made fast’ or ‘in attendance’, and the time when each tug arrived.
    • check the synchronisation of bridge, engine room and other clocks;
    • take photographs of any damage to your ship and the other ship or dock;
    • if possible, estimate the angle of blow, the ship’s speed and the other ship’s speed;
  • The P&I Club does not cover damage caused to the ship itself – that is the responsibility of the hull underwriters. If a collision only results in damage to your ship, your P&I Club will probably not be involved financially but it may assist the owner. However, the damage caused to the other ship in a collision may be insured by the P&I Club or by the hull underwriters or by both of them. P&I Clubs always insure liabilities resulting from collisions relating to pollution, personal injury, cargo and other property damage. The P&I Club usually covers damage to docks and other fixed property, but sometimes this is covered by the hull underwriters.
    • remember not to admit liability when questioned (in most collision cases investigated by the Club, both parties, to a greater or lesser extent, have been found to blame), and take special care to prevent unauthorized surveyors and lawyers from boarding the ship; • brief crew members, tell them the facts and instruct them not to discuss the incident with anybody;
    • depending upon the damage caused during the collision, a survey of the ship’s damage or of the cargo or an accident investigation may be necessary – the P&I correspondent will arrange these surveys;
    • if injuries, pollution or cargo damage have resulted from the incident, then concerned checklist to be used in conjunction.
    • if the damage has been caused by ship’s wash, make a list of all other vessels which passed at or near the time of the incident.


The most common type of pollution is by oil. However, P&I cover is not limited merely to oil pollution; any pollution which originates from or is caused by the ship is covered (e.g. smoke or garbage). If you see or suspect pollution from your ship, the golden rule is to take action, no matter how small the pollution may be, even if you are not certain that your ship is to blame.

General Procedures

  • investigate every allegation of pollution, not just allegations of oil pollution;
  • suspend all pumping operations and close all valves in bilge, ballast, bunkering and cargo systems;
  • inform port control, your owner or manager and the P&I correspondent – ask for a surveyor (if the port authority is carrying out an investigation, ask for a lawyer as well);
  • if in US waters, make sure you follow the vessel’s response plan (tankers), otherwise follow the SOPEP;
  • if possible, identify the source and cause of the pollution;
  • take photographs to show the extent of the pollution;
  • if possible, collect samples, seal and date them;
  • if the pollution originates from a tank overflow, obtain the following information from whoever was involved and write it down:
  • sequence of events, which led to the pollution;
  • pump start and stop times;
  • agreed pumping rate;
  • tank volume;
  • topping off procedure;
  • record of soundings.
  • if the pollution has been caused by failure of ship’s equipment, assemble details of recent examinations, maintenance or tests, plus a test certificate if a flexible hose is used.

Cargo Loss or Damage

P&I Clubs do not directly insure the cargo for loss or damage but they do insure shipowners or managers for their liability to cargo owners for loss or damage arising while the cargo is in the custody of the ship. Good maintenance, careful handling, stowage and transportation prevent many cargo claims.

General Procedures

At the loading port Cargo is often damaged before shipment. If the damage goes unnoticed before the cargo is loaded and clean bills of lading are issued, receivers will claim against the shipowner for pre-existing damage. There are different reasons for pre-shipment damage and you should look out for the following:

  • cargo loaded with debris or foreign bodies;
  • cargo damaged or in substandard condition when loaded;
  • cargo exposed on the quayside prior to loading. if cargo is being loaded which shows signs of damage – stop loading and call the P&I correspondent. The mate’s receipts and bills of lading may have to be claused;
  • if water-sensitive cargoes are carried, note in the ship’s cargo log the storage conditions prior to loading and method of delivery to the ship;
  • if cargo is a steel product, always arrange with the local P&I correspondent for a pre-loading survey. Cargo can also be damaged during loading:
    • by rain;
    • by the stevedores;
    • or because the cargo hold or tank has not been cleaned properly or prepared for the cargo;
    • because it is stowed improperly or in the wrong location inside the ship.
  • These last two causes are generally your responsibility.
  • if cargo is loaded in the rain, stop loading and close the hatch covers. Note down the periods of rain when the hatch covers were open. It may be necessary to discharge wet cargo;
  • if stevedores roughly handle cargo, protest and make a note of the damage;
  • make sure cargo holds or tanks are clean and ready to receive the cargo — where possible inspect the spaces before loading. The fact that holds are passed by surveyors representing charterers or shippers is not enough to relieve the ship of liability if the holds are not in fact suitable for the cargo;
  • check stowage before loading (ask for a stowage plan and find out the proposed location for stowage of heavy, hazardous or sensitive cargoes);
  • if loading oil products or chemicals, witness any sampling, review the results of any tests on the samples, store the samples in a secure location – check for contamination. Cargo can be damaged during the ocean voyage because it has been stowed badly.
  • always supervise stowage and insist upon changes if stowage is inappropriate, unsafe or likely to damage cargo. If in doubt, call the local P&I correspondent and ask for a surveyor to examine the stow.

During the voyage

Damage often occurs during the voyage because of moisture or because the stow shifts.

  • check lashings before departure and during the voyage.
  • Check with charterers for ventilation and carriage temperature requirements (only ventilate when you are sure the conditions are correct).

At the discharge port

If cargo is found damaged on arrival at the discharge port you should:

  • notify your owner or manager;
  • immediately call the P&I correspondent and arrange the attendance of a surveyor;
  • delay discharge until the nature and extent of the damage is found;
  • if short-delivery or contamination is reported, contact the P&I correspondent: you will need a surveyor to witness any sampling or to calculate the shortage.


Some wet damaged cargoes can give off gas. Access to cargo holds should be restricted until the hold atmosphere has been tested and declared safe.

Bills of Lading

The bill of lading is a record of the quantity of cargo and of its apparent order and condition at the time of shipment and, as such, is a vitally important document. Cargo damage or shortage claims can result from errors in the quantity and condition of cargo recorded on the bills of lading. The bill of lading also represents the cargo itself and possession of the original bill indicates who is entitled to receive the cargo at the discharge port. If you have any doubt about dealing with bill of lading problems, call the local P&I correspondent immediately.

General Procedures

Typical discrepancies with bills of lading:

  • wrong port and date;
  • quantity of cargo incorrect;
  • description of cargo incorrect;
  • condition of cargo incorrect.
  • check the details on the bills against tally sheets, mate’s receipts, boat notes, draft surveys;
  • note on the bills any details of damaged cargo, or short-delivered cargo, or any other discrepancies. (Guidelines on how to describe pre-shipment damage to steel cargoes is contained in the Club’s Guide to P&I Cover. If in doubt call the local P&I correspondent and ask for a surveyor). It is not your job to decide whether the cargo is marketable, only to decide whether it is in apparent good order and condition, this is particularly relevant to steel cargoes.

Typical Problems

  • shipper objects to the bills being claused – notify your owner or manager and P&I correspondent immediately;
  • if you suspect that the agents have signed bills on your behalf without checking the mate’s receipts or without noting on the bills any remarks, which are in the mate’s receipts – inform your owner or manager immediately;
  • the bill of lading is not presented at the discharge port by the person requesting delivery of the cargo – notify your owner or manager or the P&I correspondent immediately.

Golden Rules

  • never sign wrongly dated bills;
  • never sign clean bills for damaged cargo or for cargo, which is not in apparent good order and condition;
  • never sign bills for cargo, which has not been loaded;
  • always call the P&I correspondent if you have any problem with the condition and quantity of cargo or with the bills of lading;
  • never deliver cargo to a third party without presentation of the original bill;
  • never discharge cargo against a letter of indemnity without your owner’s or manager’s or the P&I correspondent’s agreement.

If it is agreed to retain one original bill of lading on board against which the cargo may be delivered, the shippers’/charterers’ instructions for procedures at the discharge port must be strictly followed. In such a case, to protect the shipowner from a claim for mis-delivery of the cargo, all original bills of lading should be endorsed as follows:

One original bill of lading retained on board against which delivery of cargo may properly be made on instructions received from shippers/charterers.”

Stowaways and Ship Security

The costs of repatriation of stowaways (as well as sick crew members) are covered by the Club. Repatriation of stowaways can be difficult, time consuming and expensive – always complete a thorough stowaway search before departure and always maintain a gangway watch.


What to do when stowaways are found:

  • confine them to a secure area, particularly when in port or coastal waters (in port it may be necessary to arrange for security guards);
  • search them and their place of concealment for identification papers, weapons or drugs;
  • if no identification papers are found, interview the stowaways and endeavor to ascertain the following information:
    • name of stowaway;
    • stowaway’s date and place of birth;
    • nationality of stowaway;
    • name, date and place of birth of either or both of the stowaway’s parents;
    • postal and residential address of the stowaway and either or both parents;
    • stowaway’s passport No., together with date of and place of issue;
    • stowaway’s next of kin, if different from above.
    • advise your owner or manager immediately and the P&I correspondent at the next port as soon as possible, providing all available details and the ship’s future itinerary;
    • treat them firmly, but humanely, allowing adequate sustenance;
    • do not add stowaways to the crew list.


Fines for drugs discovered on board may be covered by the Club.

when drugs are discovered:

  • if your owner or manager is a signatory to either the UK Anti Drug Alliance or US Sea Carrier Initiative Agreement, follow the guidelines set out in those agreements;
  • inform your owner or manager, the appropriate authorities and the P&I correspondent at the next port immediately;
  • photograph the drugs in their place of concealment;
  • ensure that retrieval of the drugs and stowage in a secure place, preferably in the ship’s safe, is witnessed;
  • minimise all contact with the substances and DO NOT attempt to taste or smell them;
  • record full details of the discovery and subsequent procedures in the logbook, and follow this up with a full written report.

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