Removal of asbestosat Dalian ship recycling yard owned by DSIC Marine Services. Credit: DSIC Marine Services Co Ltd
There have been renewed calls to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to amend regulations that ban the use of asbestos and asbestos containing materials in ships.
Speaking to SAS, John Chillingworth, senior marine principal at UK ship recycling company Lucion Marine, estimated that 70% of all ships sailing – about 50,000 in total – could contain asbestos, “either from when they were built or [from having had] asbestos materials introduced through owner-supplied consumables such as gasket materials”.
This is despite the fact that that the IMO amended the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention to ban the use of asbestos on ships built after July 2002. It also states that if asbestos is found on board a ship built after July 2002, then the vessel’s flag registry, in conjunction with its classification society, must issue a non-extendable exemption certificate, providing the owner with a three-year window in which to remove the asbestos.
Currently Panama, Liberia, the United Kingdom, and other major flag states accept a classification society’s inspection when issuing an annual operating certificate, even though the ‘asbestos free notation’ is based only on a shipyard declaration that the vessel is asbestos-free.
Chillingworth called the current regulations “somewhat ridiculous” and said the system was failing. He has suggested that the IMO modify the SOLAS requirement to ensure flag state authorities insist on registered ships having a verification asbestos survey performed as part of annual certification, that this is done by a marine specialist ISO17020-accredited company, and that any asbestos found is removed before the ship can be registered. This is already done by Australia and the Netherlands.
Chillingworth added, “There is still a lack of awareness with foreign crews that do not know about asbestos. Considering specifically pipe flanges that have asbestos gaskets, the risk of exposure when removing the gasket is small, however, if the gasket splits, asbestos fibres can be released to an unsafe level.
During normal ship operations, the risk to seafarers is low; however, ship crews need to know if and where asbestos is in a ship and how to manage it.”
Trade union Nautilus International has also campaigned for stricter controls to prevent seafarers from being exposed to asbestos and for “proper compensation” for its members suffering from asbestos-related diseases.