–What happens to mariners during an investigation?

As a seafarer, you must obey U.S. and international environmental regulations, and you must speak truthfully to government officials. The USCG must investigate all reports of incidents regardless of who reported them. If needed, the USCG conducts three main types of investigations (beyond the preliminary investigation): Data Collection, Informal and Formal. The USCG will request different information depending on the level of investigation.

The USCG may ask for (and the vessel must maintain) the following records:

  • Deck and engine room logs
  • Bell books
  • Navigation charts and work books
  • Gyro records and compass deviation cards
  • Stowage plans
  • Night order books
  • Radiograms sent and received
  • Radio logs
  • Crew and passenger lists
  • Official logs and articles of shipment.

If the USCG boards your vessel, remember a few important things:

  • Stay calm, and tell the truth. Make sure you understand the questions the USCG investigator asks and seek clarification or an interpreter if necessary. In most MARPOL (the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships) cases, convictions occur due to crew members and shipping companies not telling the truth or presenting false records to the USCG—not for the actual dumping in the sea.
  • Cooperate and be forthcoming with the USCG inspector. Hindering an investigation could result in charges of obstruction of justice.
  • Don’t try to influence other crew in their discussions with the USCG. Insist that all crew members tell the truth when talking to the USCG or other authorities.
  • Protect your rights. You have the right to refuse to answer any question from the USCG that might incriminate you. This right applies only to you. You don’t have the right to refuse to answer a question that might incriminate someone else. Don’t expect to receive a Miranda warning like you see in American films and television. The law does not require Miranda warnings unless the person interviewed is in custody, and U.S. courts decided that USCG investigations on vessels are not custodial interrogations requiring a Miranda warning.
  • If you have any questions about your rights, especially if there is a chance that you might be suspected of committing a crime, you should get advice from a lawyer. Each crew member has the right to consult with a lawyer before speaking to U.S. authorities. You have the right to get advice from a lawyer who represents your interests only—not the interests of others. Conflicts can come up between you, the shipping company and other crew members. Make sure that you get advice from a lawyer who represents your interests.

Ultimately, the U.S. Department of Justice makes the final decision on whether (and under what conditions) to prosecute criminal violations of marine safety and environmental laws.