New rule tasks master in crime

Feb 11, 2014 by Guest Writer

A measure now pending at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) sets guidelines for ship masters to follow in “collecting and preserving evidence” following allegations that a serious crime has been committed on board ship. The measure outlines responsibilities of the ship’s captain during the time period between the report of a possible serious crime and the time when professional crime scene investigators take action.

“It is recognized that the master is not a professional crime-scene investigator and that crew and resources to preserve and collect evidence may be limited depending on the vessel type,” the measure states. However, “the master should attempt to secure the scene of the alleged crime as soon as possible… Where an incident has occurred in a space that cannot be sealed, the master should aim to collect the evidence…”

Under the rule, the master would be expected, for example, “to draw up a list of persons who may have information and invite them to record their recollection of events,” as well as to collect evidence while wearing protective clothing “such as overalls and rubber gloves.” The rule stipulates that all collected items “are to be photographed, identified, labelled and logged at the location found before removal and packaging.”

Examples of labels and packaging materials for many types of evidence are listed. Specifics for collecting samples of blood and other “biohazards” are included, as are techniques for recovering fibers and hair, and preserving or photographing footprints and fingerprints.

The new rule is posted in its entirety on

Reported in a recent edition of Wheelhouse Weekly, a newsletter of the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots. It has been reprinted with permission.