“Ships Don’t Leave Skid Marks” — URI’s Dennis Nixon to deliver lecture on forensics in maritime law

First time presenting at URI’s Forensic Science Seminar

Sept. 28, 2023

Most frequently seen leading maritime institutions and vessels in Rhode Island and across Narragansett Bay, on Friday, Oct. 6, University of Rhode Island Marine Affairs Professor Emeritus Dennis Nixon (of Jamestown) will step to the podium to present for the first time at URI’s long-running Forensic Science Seminar Series, marking its 25th year this year.

The marine environment poses its own set of unique challenges for forensic analysis, says Nixon who assisted in the prosecution of both major oil spill cases in recent history in Rhode Island (World Prodigy in 1989 and North Cape in 1996). He says that the acquisition and preservation of evidence was critical in the resolution of both cases and notes that another major issue at sea is the cost of recovering evidence.

“Unlike incidents ashore, preservation of evidence is far more difficult at sea — and sometimes impossible,” Nixon says. “Ships don’t leave skid marks, although the advent of automated identification systems does make it possible to electronically recreate a casualty.”

Nixon served as director of the Rhode Island Sea Grant Program from 2013 to 2020. In that role, he led a multi-million-dollar research and education program devoted to using scientific knowledge to improve the management of Rhode Island’s coastal waters. Prior to that, he was associate dean at URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography, responsible for the administration of the 200+ acre campus, pier, and the research vessel Endeavor. Nixon has served as a faculty member at URI for over 40 years, teaching courses in marine and coastal law.

Nixon says he was happy to be invited to speak about maritime forensics when invited by series co-coordinator Jimmie Oxley. (“Always happy to help someone whose specialty is explosives,” he notes.)

A marine lawyer by training, Nixon is also a member of the Maritime Law Association of the United States and the Rhode Island Bar. He was the legal advisor for the University National Oceanographic Laboratory System and provided advice to the U.S. academic research vessel fleet for three decades. He has lectured on marine law in 27 states and 26 countries on six continents and is the author of the casebook Marine and Coastal Law. Nixon earned his law degree at the University of Cincinnati, a master’s in marine affairs at URI, and a certificate in ocean law from Harvard Law School. He is an avid sailor on vessels of all sizes and races his own boat weekly on Narragansett Bay.

Nixon’s lecture will take place in URI’s Beaupre Center for Chemical and Forensic Sciences (Room 100) in Kingston on Friday, Oct. 6, 3:30–5 p.m. Nixon’s talk will also be livestreamed and viewable later; all lectures in the series are free and open to the public.

To learn more about the URI Forensic Seminar Series and be added to the series’ email list, contact Dennis Hilliard, Rhode Island State Crime Laboratory, dhilliard@uri.edu / 401-874-5056.