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The Collection of Evidence during a survey

by Ieuan Dolby

The public domain hosts various lists that detail specific evidence to be collected during the survey of a vessel, e.g. after a casualty or damage has occurred.

To have a prepared list can ease communications between the surveyor and the crew, especially during a WP survey when barriers and / or resistance can only be expected. However, generic and previously prepared lists can be misleading, especially those lists created by an unconnected party. Using a generic list can quite easily result in certain documents being missed, and in some circumstances cause friction if the crew recognise that one or more of the documents being requested are irrelevant, or that the number requested is excessive.

A generic list can be useful, e.g. to highlight the important and obvious documents but such a list must then be refined and used as a starting point only. Every survey is different from the last; every survey requires a different approach.

CASE EXAMPLE: after a collision and as arranged the WP Surveyor boarded the opponent vessel, introduced himself to the Captain and Technical Superintendent and sat down to await the arrival of the owner's P&I Club Surveyor. He chatted with the Superintendent about unconnected topics and they both had a good laugh. One hour later the Owners P&I Surveyor rocks up, barges into the ship's office and starts to push his way around. He neither introduced himself nor explained his purpose onboard. After the WP survey was conducted, the WP Surveyor submitted a short list of requirements to the Superintendent. The Superintendent politely declined to act upon the list, with explanation that it should be submitted through the official channels. He did though push across the table a copy of the repair schedule, and a diagram outlining the damage areas, whilst muttering, "This might help". They then shook hands, and the WP Surveyor duly departed - he got all that he was going to get on that occasion – with a little extra!

Conversely, the Superintendent took his own P&I Surveyor aside and told him in no uncertain terms that he was rude and impolite. He refused to hand to him any documents and he stated that his manner throughout was of no assistance to the process.

During any survey it is paramount that politeness and good communication is used throughout. Such basic approach opens up channels (greases the wheels) and places the surveyor in a category of reduced threat and / or indeed as a benefit (simplification) to the process. For example, even if the surveyor is representing the owner or member, the Captain can create solid resistance to specific requests. This might be because the Captain is tired, angry or busy. After an incident, e.g. a collision or grounding he might be shocked, confused or concerned and to have a surveyor barging in, showing impoliteness or brashness, and requesting streams of documents typically puts him in a corner, one where the easiest answer is "No". But if the surveyor is polite and friendly, doors are easier to open, the Captain tends to become more amenable to requests and indeed he may recognise that the surveyor is simply doing his job as much as he is doing his – zero threat, in the same boat, understanding or acceptance that it is easier to comply and get rid of the surveyor than to create an unretractable situation.

If possible, before submitting an initial list of required documents it is suitable to suss out the lay of the land. This allows the end result to be:

  • definitive rather than work in progress and
  • direct, to the point and comprehensive.

Upon boarding the vessel, the surveyor should have in his mind (or notebook) basic generic requirements (a draft list of documents), ready to be issued /requested when the time appears right. But first he should ask to look around, verbally discuss the situation with the relevant crew members, request an overview of the occurrence / current situation and whilst completing these steps the draft list can be refined.

For example, if whilst walking around the surveyor is allowed to take a photograph of the Designated Person's DP's) contact details, then this item can be removed from the draft list. Or, if whilst walking around he notices that a rough log book is being used for documenting maintenance in the engine room (and if this is pertinent to the incident under survey) then this item can be added.

CASE EXAMPLE: After a collision, an H&M Surveyor immediately requested from the Captain a copy of the VDR recording, and a set of transcripts from the VTS shore base. These requests set into motion a complicated and expensive retrieval process that caused serious friction between the authorities, the underwriters, owners and vessel. During an overload of often stressed and demanding communications, the surveyor forgot to obtain some essential documents. He later tried to obtain these documents from the vessel but was abruptly informed that he should speak to owners. Owners refused. The outcome of this unnecessary situation is unknown. Essentially, the surveyor should not have boarded with intent to 'find root cause' but to follow the usual routine of ascertaining cause, nature and extent'. He should have collected the relevant onboard documents and discussed the situation with the relevant crew members. In reality, the collection of the VDR and shoreside transcripts was both unnecessary and cost prohibitive, when considering the low cost of the repairs (below deductible).Such collection would also have been under the remit of an attending P&I surveyor if he decided such was necessary, although in this situation it was deemed unnecessary for a P&I surveyor to attend.

By utilising an assessment style of approach, the surveyor can gain valuable knowledge of the current status and severity of the vessel / situation, the state-of-mind of the crew and importantly give time to judge what the crew may or may not be willing to impart. This approach kicks into gear a refined process, ultimately leading to a timely and well received request for documents.

Of course, certain surveys require that the list is later added to, especially in circumstance where new information is gained or the situation is a continually developing one, but to have the above methodology in mind from the outset ensures a positive beginning that can be rapidly and easily refined later.

In other words, a surveyor should not rush (or be rushed) into presenting an initial list of requirements. He should though be prepared to present one after he has developed his own understanding of the situation. He can then add to this list at a later date, once full assessment of the occurrence has been conducted, not in piecemeal fashion but as a considered 'developed list' that then encompasses additional requirement.

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