Asbestos Prohibited on Ships
As of January 1, 2011, the installation on ships of all types of asbestos-containing material was prohibited by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the United Nations agency responsible for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships.1 Exemptions which had been permitted since July 1, 2002 such as some vanes, joints and insulation were terminated by IMO Circular 1374: Information on Prohibiting the Use of Asbestos on Board Ships2 adopted in late 2010 during the 88th Session of the Maritime Safety Committee.3
The IMO document, which is binding on Member States, was unambiguous about the risk posed by asbestos on board ships and the need to prevent any further use of asbestos It highlighted the fact that ships that initially were free of asbestos, appear to have asbestos on board as a result of repairs at shipyards and/or purchasing spare parts at a later stage. Addressing the risks from such practices, the 169 IMO Member Governments4 have been instructed to alert all parties concerned (including maritime Administrations, recognized organizations, port authorities, shipbuilders and ship repairers, and equipment suppliers) to take appropriate action when the presence of hazardous products is suspected.
As well as training crew members and maritime personnel on asbestos awareness and setting a 3 year deadline for removal of contaminated products onboard, it is recommended that a protocol be set up to ensure that products installed during repair or refit work are asbestos-free; due diligence procedures and random surveys are suggested to verify that products with asbestos free declarations are indeed made from safer materials.
There is little doubt that the momentum for a global asbestos ban is escalating. Last week the use of asbestos was banned in Turkey,5 this week the IMO prohibited the future use of asbestos on ships. With Circular 1374, the IMO joins a long line of international agencies including the International Labor Organization, the World Health Organization, the International Agency for Research on Cancer which have recognized the disastrous effects of asbestos exposure on human health. 6 Unfortunately, the implementation of these policies on the ground and at sea cannot be taken for granted. With increasing public, worker and medical awareness of the asbestos hazard, however, growing pressure will be exerted by civil society actors to ensure that national authorities comply with best practice as identified by authoritative international bodies. The New Year, which has begun so well, looks full of promise.
January 3, 2011
3 This session was held from November 24 - December 3, 2010.
4 The 169 IMO members include all the big asbestos producing countries Russia, China, Brazil, Kazakhstan and Canada as well as the most prolific user countries: India, Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand.