With few exceptions, commercial vessel operators must provide immediate notification to the Coast Guard when involved in a serious marine casualty. The criteria for what constitutes a reportable incident is set forth at 46 C.F.R. § 4.05.1. Groundings, bridge strikes, costly property damage events, major mechanical failures and personal injuries requiring medical treatment beyond basic first aid are common examples. A phone call or fax to the Coast Guard typically satisfies the initial notice requirement; but formal report of the incident, in the form of the CG-2692 Report of Marine Accident, Injury or Death, must be filed within five days.
Federal regulations specify the information that must be submitted in the initial report to the Coast Guard and in the subsequent CG-2692. However, before putting anything in writing, consideration should be given as to the amount of detail concerning your involvement in any incident and the manner in which the casualty is described, particularly in the “Description of Casualty” section of the CG-2692.
In the haste of preparing a CG-2692 for timely submission, it is easy to misstate important factual details or disclose information that is not necessarily needed for the reporting requirements but which could unfavorably implicate the reporting party in subsequent litigation. Generally, “less is more” when providing a narrative account of an incident in the CG-2692.
You should expect that whatever information is reported to the Coast Guard will be discovered should the casualty result in litigation because Coast Guard investigation records, including the CG-2692, are generally available to the public under the Freedom of Information Act. Importantly, such records are usually not admissible as evidence in legal proceedings. But the information reported on a CG-2692 can arm your opponent with important facts that can be developed into admissible evidence through other means, such as depositions and other pre-trial discovery practices.
While anyone from the vessel’s master to the company’s CEO can prepare a CG-2692, it is often advisable to seek legal counsel before submitting anything in writing to the Coast Guard in the event of a serious marine casualty. Careful wording in an accident report can serve as an early and critical step in mitigating your liability exposure.
Note: This article first appeared in the October 2011 edition of WorkBoat magazine.