News story

25 years making the seas safer

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch marks silver anniversary.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government


The UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) is marking its 25th anniversary of work to improve safety at sea today , Thursday 7 August 2014.

The MAIB was established in 1989 as a result of the public inquiry into the 1987 capsizing of the cross-channel ferry Herald of Free Enterprise in which 193 people died.

While the Coastguard are the first responders when it comes to rescues at sea, it is the MAIB which does the detective work to find out what went wrong, and what lessons can be learned.

The MAIB is operationally independent from both the Department for Transport and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), with a mission to improve the safety of life at sea by investigating marine accidents and making safety recommendations to prevent recurrences.

The branch not only investigates accidents in UK waters, but also those elsewhere where vessels sailing under the British flag are involved.

Over the last 25 years the MAIB has raised reports on over 40,000 marine accidents and incidents, conducted 1500 investigations, published nearly 500 investigations reports, and made upwards of 3000 safety recommendations.

Maritime Minister John Hayes said:

Britain is an island nation and shipping plays an enormously important role in ensuring our economic prosperity. The sea can be a fickle mistress and we may never completely eradicate accidents.

However, over the past quarter of a century the Marine Accident Investigation Branch has done sterling work uncovering and explaining the risks, helping seafarers to ply their trade safely and improve the safety of all those travelling on the water. We can be proud of the MAIB and its investigators for building a world-wide reputation for expertise and professionalism.

Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents Steve Clinch said:

The MAIB performs a vital role by focussing its investigation on why an accident occurs so that tangible lessons can be learned to prevent similar accidents in the future. The MAIB is justifiably recognised as a world leader in its field and in the last 25 years its recommendations have had a significant impact on the safety of the marine industry.

I am proud of what the branch has achieved, both on my own watch and in the past. It is a privilege to head up such a professional and competent team.

Milestone investigations include:

  • on 20 August 1989, just weeks after the MAIB formed, the Thames pleasure cruiser Marchioness was struck by a dredger and sank with the loss of 51 lives - the accident was one of the first investigated by the MAIB and resulted in 27 recommendations to improve safety on the Thames
  • the grounding of the motor tanker Braer at Garths Ness, Shetland, on 5 January 1993, spilled nearly 85,000 tonnes of crude oil - the investigation led to the coastguard positioning 5 emergency towing vessels (ETVs) around the UK coast to deal with such emergencies
  • the investigation into the grounding of the liner Queen Elizabeth 2 off Cuttyhunk Island, USA on 7 August 1992 led to the Branch’s first joint investigation with the US Coastguard (USCG) and the US National Transport Safety Board (NTSB)
  • the tanker Sea Empress ran aground and was subsequently salvaged at Milford Haven, Wales between 15 and 21 February 1996 - the findings of this investigation fed into Lord Donaldson’s review and resulted in the establishment of the post of Secretary Of State’s Representative who has the power to act without recourse to higher authority to control marine salvage
  • following a request for help, the MAIB assisted in the recovery and analysis of the voyage data recorder (VDR) for the Egyptian ro-ro ferry Al Salam Boccaccio 98, which caught fire and sank with the loss of over 1100 lives while on passage across the Red Sea on 3 February 2006 - the vessel sank in 940 metres, making this the deepest successful recovery of a VDR

Today the branch’s 16 inspectors are conducting 35 investigations into a diverse range of accidents, ranging from the loss of commercial fishing vessels, to collisions and fires on the River Thames, and the grounding of a ro-ro ferry.

A short video outlining the role and history of the MAIB is available online.

To coincide with the MAIB’s anniversary, the MCA is sharing 25 top tips for safety at sea:

  • do you know how to operate and navigate your vessel safely? If not, get trained - or sail with qualified and experienced crew.
  • before setting out – check your boat, especially the engine, batteries, navigation lights and sea valves - carry spares and tools
  • check steering gear – and know what to do if it fails
  • get an up-to-date weather forecast and information on tides - don’t embark if foul weather is predicted
  • inform colleagues, friends, family or the Coastguard of your intended journey and route
  • a lifejacket is useless unless worn - make sure it is well maintained, and always fasten the crotch-strap if it has one
  • use other personal safety kit where necessary – helmets, lifelines, kill-cords and survival suits can all save your life
  • always carry emergency equipment – especially distress flares, positioning beacons and a phone
  • always use a VHF/DSC radio - and remember Channel 16 is the emergency frequency
  • alcohol is a significant contributor to accidents at sea - don’t drink and drown
  • carry a life-raft that meets regulations and is easy to deploy
  • remember the Collision Regulations
  • make sure you have read the Safety of Life At Sea (SOLAS) laws as they relate to your vessel
  • pleasure boats should be fitted with a radar reflector, where possible
  • an illustrated table of lifesaving signals should ideally be carried on board
  • report all dangers to navigation that you encounter to the Coastguard
  • always respond to distress signals, where safe to do so
  • distress signals must not be misused
  • rehearse your Man Overboard drill
  • passage plan: have contingency plans in place for your voyage – and know where to take shelter if you need to
  • if you encounter stormy weather – make sure you know how to prepare your boat
  • make sure you carry medical supplies – including effective seasickness remedies
  • obey speed limits – they are as important at sea as on land
  • fire at sea is serious – ensure your vessel has the right firefighting equipment
  • in any emergency on the water, always call 999 and ask for the Coastguard

Maritime media enquiries

Published 7 August 2014