MAIB report: accidents increase in 2021 and comment on UK paddleboard tragedy


The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has seen a marked increase in reports of marine accidents in 2021 over the previous year. In the MAIB’s annual report for 2021, the MAIB raised 1,530 reports of marine accidents in 2021, an increase of over 300 on the previous year, and commenced 22 investigations, up from 19 the previous year.

The MAIB has also announced the intended launch of two new initiatives later in 2022: a new digital accident reporting portal and public access to MAIB’s statistical database.

The MAIB says the increase in reported accidents is largely due to the industry responding to a request for more information on dangerously weighted heaving lines and defective pilot ladders. Strong evidence was received that sub-standard ladders remain a significant problem. While dangerously weighted heaving lines pose a significant hazard to tug crews and line handlers, the evidence received did not support the level of anecdotal reporting.

The annual report includes statistics on accidents to UK ships and seafarers worldwide, and to foreign flag vessels and their crews in UK waters. It also contains an overview of the work of the MAIB, details of reports published and contains analysis of the safety recommendations issued during the year and the status of outstanding recommendations from previous years.

Captain Andrew Moll OBE, chief inspector of marine accidents says: “The branch commenced two investigations during the year that deserve comment due to their unusual nature. The first is the investigation into the tragic deaths, on 30 October, of four stand-up paddleboarders while attempting to cross a weir at Haverfordwest on the River Cleddau. The sheer enormity of this tragedy selected it for attention and I am hopeful that many safety improvements will be in place before the main UK holiday season.

Weir at Haverfordwest

“The second, commenced in January this year, is the investigation into the emergency response to the presumed sinking of a boat of migrants while attempting to cross the English Channel on 24 November. At least 27 migrants perished in that accident. While the MAIB’s investigation report is unlikely to be read by the traffickers, the investigation is identifying safety learning that will be of future benefit if interventions continue to be necessary to save life when migrant boats are attempting the crossing.”

No seamen on UK flagged merchant vessels lost their lives, but ten commercial fishermen lost their lives in 2021, the highest number for a decade.

“The MAIB received no reports of fatal accidents to seafarers on UK registered merchant vessels of 100gt or more during the year but did commence investigations into fatalities on two red ensign group vessels and one fatality on a Cyprus-registered vessel operating in UK waters. From these investigations two themes emerge: the first is that mooring deck fatalities as a result of snap-back continue to occur, despite well-published guidance on the hazard; the second is that marshalling vehicles on roll-on/roll-of vessels remains extremely hazardous.

“Ten commercial fishermen lost their lives in 2021, the highest annual figure for a decade and a stark contrast to the low loss of life in 2020. That is a little short of one death per 1,000 qualified fishing vessel crew; possibly a statistical blip, but a truly appalling annual fatality rate nonetheless.

“It is unsurprising, but disappointing, that the most significant safety issues were, again, small fishing vessel stability and man overboard fatalities. I will not decry any of the various initiatives that are ongoing to improve fishing vessel safety – a lot of people are doing some very good work – but the evidence shows that the messages are not yet changing behaviours to a significant extent.

Two new initiatives from the MAIB launching later in 2022 are a digital portal for the reporting of marine accidents; and, provision of public access to the statistical elements of the MAIB’s database. Both initiatives will make it easier for the industry to interface with the branch, and online access to the marine casualty database will be of great benefit to marine organisations, companies and researchers.

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