85% of new ships still contain asbestos

CTI Marine surveyors know where to search for asbestos in a ship
CTI Marine surveyors know where to search for asbestos in a ship

Shipboard safety is one thing, but the design and construction of ships has an inpact on shipyard safety, particularly when ships containing potentially hazardous materials need repair, according to John Chillingworth, senior vice president of CTI Marine.

Asbestos may be perceived as a problem of the past however, this is unfortunately not the case as it is still found on 85% of new ships.

CTI Marine regularly performs pre delivery surveys on new builds and finds asbestos in their construction. This is a global issue because the material supply chain is global. The problem is mainly caused because suppliers are only required to give a declaration that an item is asbestos free and not provide a formal certificate itemising material content. Over the years the issue of finding asbestos on newer ships has prompted SOLAS to state that all ships built after July 2002 should be asbestos free. The SOLAS Convention acknowledges that the only accurate way to determine this is by having an asbestos survey performed by an accredited marine specialist who can issue a recognised certificate of compliance.

CTI Marine is managed by former classification surveyors and has offices in UK, Singapore, Shanghai and Atlanta. It is the only company with the combined approval of GL/Lloyd’s, Netherlands and AMSA, to perform hazardous material inventories and asbestos surveys on ships.

Some flag states, such as AMSA and the Netherlands, are tightening up enforcement of SOLAS regulations by not accepting ships without an approved asbestos survey. The Netherlands inspectorate states that only marine experienced ISO 17020 companies can perform acceptable surveys on Dutch flag ships.

In a recent situation an Australian charterer wanted to use a ship built in 2012 with a GL asbestos free certificate based on a survey performed by a GL approved hazardous material contractor, however AMSA would not accept the survey as it was from a non-approved AMSA survey company. CTI performed a new survey on the ship in France and found asbestos in three locations, the asbestos was removed for safe disposal and a certificate of compliance was issued. On another 2012 built ship, for the same charterer, asbestos was found in 14 locations, even though the ship had a shipyard declaration stating the ship was asbestos free.

Asbestos fibres are harmful because they are small and can pass through the body’s natural filtration system, can be lodged inside the lung, and because it does not dissolve asbestos can lead to cancer forming between 15 and 30 years after exposure. It can be found in flange gaskets, valves, machinery, deck and bulkhead insulation, pipe lagging and electric cables, among other parts of a ship.

Asbestos is still being used legally in some shipbuilding countries, such as China, while the threshold of what constitutes ‘asbestos-free’ is different in various countries, e.g. zero asbestos in Australia, 0.1 in most of Europe, 1.0 in the US and ‘no official standard’ in China.

The equipment and parts supply chain is multi layered and its origin is not always clear when exported from China. Moreover, the term ‘asbestos-free’ is only a declaration, and is not supported by tests.

The company recently gave a presentation at DNV in Shanghai for 20 senior new build field surveyors. One surveyor voiced his concerns that by accepting the shipyard’s declaration that a ship is asbestos free, which now has been proven to be unreliable, surveyors may be exposing their reputation to criticism if a flag state subsequently finds asbestos on the ship. CTI Marine believes the shipyards are acting in good faith, but are being let down by suppliers. The surveyors agreed that it was in all stakeholders’ interests to have an asbestos ship survey performed on new ships. Owner and shipyard need to discuss independent accredited surveys performed prior to delivery.

CTI Marine says that new ship stakeholders should be careful when selecting a survey company and that there is a major difference between ISO 17020 companies which are accredited for survey and an ISO 17025 accreditation which covers only laboratory procedures. CTI has both accreditations.

Both owner and yard benefit from a proper survey. The owner knows the ship is compliant with SOLAS and all flag state requirements, which eliminates any potential charter problems. The shipyard’s cost exposure is reduced, avoiding warranty costs, delivery delays and penalty clauses. Other beneficiaries are equipment suppliers, because if a survey does find asbestos it can be dealt with prior to delivery, eliminating warranty and damage claims, while for class societies the survey eliminates the potential embarrassment of the ship’s certificate being invalidated by a flag state inspector. Perhaps the greatest benefits are to the shipyard workers who can enjoy a safer working environment.

If all stake holders work together, new ships can be delivered asbestos free. Build contracts should include a clause sating that ‘asbestos-free’ means 0%. A suitable clause, adapted from that of a large ship management company, could read:

“Asbestos absence certificate to be issued by independent ISO 17020 accredited asbestos specialist. In event yard does not agree, owners have the right to employ a specialist whose result will be binding. In case asbestos is found, yard will bear full costs incurred for the inspection and testing the whole vessel and removal and decontaminating the area/equipment and renewing the affected component.”

Some proactive companies such as Petrofac are having new ships’ large equipment surveyed for asbestos before leaving the factory.

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