The Union Minister of Shipping, Shri G. K. Vasan, has, in written reply to a question in the Lok Sabha, revealed that the Government of India has approved the establishment of the Indian Marine Casualty Investigation Cell (IMCIC). The objective of the Cell is to undertake investigation into marine casualties, such as groundings, sinking, or collision of vessels or death or grievous injury or missing reports of seafarers.
The Shipping Ministry says that the prime function of the cell will be to conduct investigation into the causes of casualty and incidents in accordance with the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1958. To do this, it intends to keep the mandatory doctrines enshrined by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in mind, as they affect casualty investigation. It is believed that the Ministry wants to keep in line with international standards and practices detailed by the IMO as they pertain to any safety investigation into a marine casualty or marine incident. The IMCIC will see the formation of six new posts, including a deputy head and accident investigator, says the Shipping Ministry.
The Cell would be empowered to:
(i) Conduct investigation into causes of shipping casualties.
(ii) Co-opt experts for the conduct of casualty investigation.
(iii) Depute persons within and outside the country for casualty investigation and other related matters.
(iv) Publish reports of finding of casualty investigation in so far as its causes are concerned.
(v) Participate in national and international forum for investigation of marine accident related matters.
Some in the industry remain sceptical about the Government’s motives in settling this longstanding demand. "Better late than never," said a port professional from Mumbai, quoted in a leading mainstream newspaper. A faculty with the Indian Maritime University in Mumbai added, on condition of anonymity, "It would depend on the kind of people getting posted to the newly created posts. They should ideally know shipping laws and practice. Look at DG Shipping itself. As an administrative department, its commercial side is weak compared to its nautical side. Not only is the department is understaffed, but it is finding difficult to get the right people."
Marine incidents in India often see huge investigative delays. "Our experience has been that it takes more than 10 to 12 years to complete an investigation," says an observer. "There is no sense in delayed judgments, but what makes one sad is that they rarely get implemented. The DGS is sitting on some of the important judgements which have been pronounced nearly a year back. The year before last there were about half-a-dozen marine accidents, but no one knows what happened to the investigations made into them," he said.
"Decisions should be made quickly to have any meaning. Take the case of the oil spill in the US. They have acted on it instantly. Litigations, if any, are taken at a later date. Investigations should be completed within a short time frame and should be made public."
We hope that the Government is listening to these experienced voices.