Asbestos is a useful material due to its soft and flexible fibres which are resistant to heat, electricity, and corrosion. However, asbestos is also well-known to be hazardous to human beings if they are exposed to it.
When inhaled, dust particles from asbestos can penetrate internal organs and tissues, such as cancers of the lung, larynx, and ovaries. In addition, evidence shows asbestos exposure could result in asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs) as well as plaques, thickening and effusion in the pleura.
Today, the prevalence of asbestos in occupational settings is startling. In 2018, it was estimated by the World Health Organization (WHO) - which classifies asbestos as a carcinogenic - that 125 million people are exposed to it in the workplace every year.
Asbestos is commonly found on board ships in its processed form, predominantly because of its heat resistance properties. It can be used as cladding on fire retardant bulkheads, on glands or gaskets of valves and associated pipe works, as friction material in winches for brake lining or alternatively as thermal insulation on boilers or steam pipes.
Typically, in the shipping industry, asbestos containing materials (ACMs) are largely prohibited for use and installation on-board ships under laws set by the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Since 1 July 2002, new installations of ACMs on board all ships have only been allowed in exceptional cases. Whilst from 1 January 2011, new installation of ACMs on board all ships will, without exception, no longer be allowed.
There are 2 main options you should consider when handling or managing asbestos on board your ship: either remove the asbestos immediately, which is the ideal strategy in most cases, or alternatively, if it is not possible to remove it immediately, make sure it is removed within three years.
Asbestos removal – which should be assigned to professional asbestos removal companies – should take place within a time frame of 3 years from the date when the contravention is found. Removal should be conducted in close consultation with and, where applicable, under the supervision of the flag state concerned. In such cases, a suitable exemption certificate should be issued by the flag state (as referred to in MSC.1/Circ.1374). It is also vital that within this 3-year period, safety measures put in place to carefully manage the asbestos on board, for which we recommend the taking the following steps:
If asbestos is found on board your ship, it contravenes IMO’s Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Regulation II-1/3-5 and this poses a significant risk to seafarers. Ideally, you should assign a professional asbestos management company to devise a comprehensive abatement plan to carefully select and implement necessary procedures. Such techniques can include encapsulation, enclosure, encasement, repair or removal of the asbestos in order to reduce the risk. Only qualified, trained, and experienced contractors should be used for any of these actions (as referred to in MSC.1-Circ.1045).
In some increasingly rare circumstances, vessels may be granted an exemption from IMO regulations and be authorised to keep the asbestos on board the ship. In these instances, it is essential to create a comprehensive AMP in accordance with the guidance provided in MSC/Circ.1045 - Guidelines for the Maintenance and Monitoring of On-board Material Containing Asbestos. The AMP should be put in place within 3 months of the asbestos being first identified and will help to promote the safety and welfare of seafarers working on board the ship with asbestos present.
Under circumstances where it is prohibited for asbestos to remain on board due to the SOLAS regulations, the relevant classification society will liaise with your vessel’s Flag Administration to acquire an exemption for the ship to continue to keep the asbestos on board. If you are unsure about the process of applying for an exemption to hold asbestos, an asbestos management company can provide you with all the relevant knowledge and experience which you require to obtain one.
CTI-Maritec have carried out asbestos and IHM surveys for over 3000 vessels worldwide. On over 50% of vessels we surveyed, asbestos materials were found. For this reason, we provide a comprehensive suite of asbestos management solutions on board ships. Please get in touch with us today to discuss your requirements via our contact form here