Asbestos still rife in ships despite decade-old ban

International maritime testing facility Maritec reports that more than 55 per cent of in-service vessels and 50 per cent of all newbuild vessels contain asbestos.

The results come from asbestos surveys Maritec conducted between 2011 and 2020 that measured compliance with the United Nations International Maritime Organisation’s safety regulations.

The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) regulation II-1/3-5 stipulates that asbestos is banned in all ships built after 2011, and that those built between 2002 and 2011 are permitted asbestos only in specific and limited areas.

“Although newbuild ships are delivered with an asbestos free declaration, in many cases asbestos has been found onboard during subsequent surveys, or port state inspections,” says John Rendi, the General Manager for Environmental Services at Maritec. “This is placing shipowners in a very difficult position. It can lead to fines and detentions along with the high cost associated with removal. More importantly, if seafarers and shipyard workers are unknowingly handling asbestos then they are at risk of developing a respiratory illness.”

Maritec Operations Manager Alvin Lee says that the majority of vessels in operation today contain asbestos, often in spare parts like gaskets, pipe gaskets, and valve packing. “A ship could leave the yard free of asbestos but find itself taking spare parts from countries where either asbestos has not yet been banned or where enforcement is weak,” he says. “The problem is very much a supply chain issue.”

Compounding the problem is the fact that asbestos restrictions differ across jurisdictions, Alvin says. “Countries do not necessarily share the same standards or asbestos restrictions. So a gasket that is classified asbestos-free in Singapore or the US may not be considered asbestos-free in Australia, New Zealand, or France, where the tolerance is higher when it comes to permissible value.”

“It’s a big problem,” he says.

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