Regulation Mess | Asbestos-Free Ships May Contain Asbestos

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The use of asbestos has a long history in sea-going vessels. It has even been used in ships belonging to the United States Navy. For commercial ships, a treaty called the International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) protects commercial sailors. It sets safety standards for the construction and operation of ships, and more than 160 countries have signed the treaty.

Over the years, SOLAS has received updates to address new concerns. A 2002 update focused on asbestos. The update allowed ships built before July 1, 2002 to have asbestos as long as it is handled correctly. For ships built between 2002 and 2011, the update allowed the use of asbestos in some applications. The 2011 update to SOLAS completely prohibited asbestos use in newly built ships.

However, recent industry surveillance shows these measures have not eliminated asbestos. CTI-Maritec is a consulting group that reports ship-related environmental concerns. CTI-Maritec’s findings show a surprising number of ships still have asbestos:

  • Nearly 55% of ships currently in service
  • Roughly 50% of newly built ships

CTI-Maritec found some certified “asbestos-free” ships still harbor the dangerous mineral. How can this happen? Several factors allow countries to say “asbestos free” without truly meaning it.

Inconsistent Asbestos Regulations Create Loopholes for Shipbuilders

Every country has its own set of laws surrounding the use of asbestos. Some countries limit how much asbestos can be used in new components, and others allow asbestos use without restriction. Even SOLAS countries may not interpret or enforce SOLAS guidelines consistently. These loopholes create opportunities for ships to contain asbestos with or without carrying the label of “asbestos free.”