Shipowners may be surprised to find their ‘asbestos-free’ ships are not, in fact, asbestos-free. According to Maritec, which provides marine inspection, testing, certification and consultancy services from its headquarters in Singapore, more than 65% of all ships are operating with systems and machinery containing asbestos, even ships built after January 1, 2011, which are prohibited by the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) to contain asbestos.
Through inspections carried out between 2011 and 2020, Maritec discovered that more than 55% of in-service vessels and 50% of all newbuilds contain asbestos materials.
Asbestos found in newbuilds and in most parts of ships built between 2002 and 2011 is an expensive problem, particularly if it’s uncovered during a port inspection, in which case, fines and detentions add to the cost of removing the material. It can also put seafarers and shipyard workers at risk of developing respiratory illnesses.
“I would say the majority of vessels in operation contain asbestos, normally through spare parts in the form of gaskets, pipe gaskets and valve packing,” said Alvin Lee, operations manager for Maritec. “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.”
Pipe flange gaskets, valve packing and components in auxiliary machinery equipment, such as pumps, compressors, condensers and oil purifiers, accounted for more than 63% of all the asbestos found on the vessels surveyed. Other equipment where asbestos is commonly found includes heat exchangers, economizers, boilers and inert gas systems.
Differing asbestos restrictions around the world compound the problem, added Lee. “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, say, Australia, New Zealand or France.”
Maritec advises shipowners to engage a certified professional to thoroughly inspect their vessels for the presence of asbestos-containing materials. If asbestos is found on a ship built after 2002 (except when permitted in certain machinery on ships built before 2011), it needs to be removed within three years by a qualified professional.
Once done, the inspection can serve as the basis for an ongoing monitoring programme.