Systematic studies of 618 fishing vessel losses between January 1961 and December 1982 have shown a significantly increased incidence of total losses from 1972 onwards. Comparison of mean pre- and post-1972 rates indicated an increase of 120% from 2.54 to 5.58 losses per 1000 vessels at risk. Parallel examination of the mortality of fishermen from all occupational accidents showed no improvement. For deaths arising from vessel losses alone, the mean crude death rate, for the same periods, increased by 13%. Despite these findings, formal investigations (courts of inquiry) into fishing losses, ordered by the Department of Transport according to specified criteria, decreased in number from about 1975 onwards. The mean number fell by 61% from 3.1 (1961-71) to 1.2 a year (1972-82). Furthermore, the reduction in the rate of formal investigations into fishing vessel losses (-84%; p less than 0.0001) was greater than the corresponding reduction (-61%; p less than 0.001) in United Kingdom merchant vessel investigations and this difference was statistically significant (p less than 0.01). During 1972-82 there were 61 fewer fishing investigations than predicted from the rate at which these were ordered during 1961-71. The last took place in 1979. None of the 141 fishing vessel losses between January 1980 and December 1982 proceeded to formal investigation. The possibility that the criteria for ordering formal investigations have not been fulfilled by the circumstances of fishing vessel losses from 1975 onwards is assessed as one explanation for this paradoxical finding of an inverse relation between losses and investigations. The accident investigation and public reporting procedures for aviation accidents should be adobted for marine accidents in general and fishing vessel losses in particular.
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