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The Ongoing Issue of Asbestos on Ships

September 17, 2021

Although legislation was issued almost 20 years ago stipulating that asbestos containing materials should no longer be used on board ships, emerging evidence shows that even newly built vessels have it on board.

In this article SGS expert, Drs. Hans de Jong, examines the current situation and explains the steps that ship owners should take to solve the problems that asbestos is causing the maritime sector.

Asbestos has been banned in ships since 2002, although through our extensive Inventory of Hazardous Materials (IHM) inspections, it is still found in most ships today. Ship builders genuinely claim that asbestos containing materials have not been used in production, however, "asbestos free" in one country does not necessarily mean the same in another, and so, with long global supply chains, fibers are often found.

We, at SGS, the world's leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company, have noticed recently that there have been many discussions around the issue of asbestos on ships and so, as a global leader in asbestos research, I will share our knowledge and provide clarification and advice on this subject.

Global Regulations

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) updated the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) 1974, specifically to confront the asbestos problem. For ships built between July 2002 and January 2011, it was prohibited for new installations to use materials containing asbestos and if any was found, a three-year period was given for its safe removal. For ships built after 2011, the regulation banned the use of asbestos on ships completely.

These regulations not only set out to minimize the health and safety risks to crew members on board but also, accompanied by the Hong Kong Convention and the European Union Ship Recycling Regulation, seek to safeguard the environment for when ships are dismantled and recycled.

Local Complexities

Depending on where a ship is registered it will also have that country's standards to abide by too. For example, in the Netherlands and Australia, ships must undergo a verification asbestos survey performed by a marine specialist ISO 17020 accredited company before being registered. This poses extra burdens on international ship owners.

From experience, I know that ship owners do not (always) have the time for this, but there are many advantages for those who want to ensure that their vessels are truly "asbestos free":

  • Protecting the health and safety of the crew
  • Reducing the risk of litigation claims from crew members
  • Increasing confidence in global expeditions without fear of an asbestos discovery on inspection
  • Saving time by knowing and/or having all asbestos issues in order
  • Maximizing the 'true' value of the ship
  • Minimizing the risk of contaminating water, air and soil
  • Protecting those involved in the dismantling and recycling of the ship
  • Managing asbestos

What is described above is the ultimate goal for every ship owner, however, the many IHM surveys that we have carried out and the maintenance we do to comply with the IMO regulations, have shown that there is still a lot of asbestos present on ships.

To comply with legislation, SGS can help owners to avoid the risk of ships not sailing by writing:

  • An asbestos removal plan
  • An asbestos management plan, or
  • A monitoring plan if removal is not possible in the short term

The approach we take depends on the year of the ship's construction. If it was built before 2002, it may contain asbestos and so the risks need to be considered. A ship built between 2002 and 2011 must have the asbestos removed within 3 years. A ship built in or after 2011 must not contain asbestos and so, if it is found, it must be removed immediately.

Why SGS?

SGS has been a trusted partner to the maritime sector for many years. It has a global presence but with local experts, all equipped with the knowledge of local regulations and requirements. The SGS team has in-house expertise on asbestos, as the world's largest provider of asbestos research and advice, gained across multiple industries.

From asbestos inventories, sampling and analyzes, guiding the removal process, checks for asbestos-containing materials during construction, a final check after removal, and training courses, SGS is there at every stage to enable safer and better ships.

Secure your ship by acting today. For more information, please contact:

Jos Geene
IHM Specialist
t: +31 (0)88 – 214 66 00

About Drs. Hans de Jong

Drs. Hans de Jong, Business Development Manager at SGS Benelux, has years of international experience in the field of asbestos and hazardous materials. Hans has been actively working within the maritime sector in recent years to help ship owners in the field of Inventory of Hazardous Materials (IHM) as the issue of hazardous materials on board ships becomes more important.

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