The SOLAS Convention
The use of asbestos on board ships is governed by Chapter II, Regulation 3-5 of the International Maritime Organisation’s 'Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention'. This introduced the first major asbestos ban on 1 July, 2002, prohibiting the new installation of asbestos-containing materials on all ships, except for:
Vanes used in rotary vane compressors and rotary vane vacuum pumps
Watertight joints and linings used for the circulation of fluids when, at high temperature (in excess of 350°C) or pressure (in excess of 0.7 x 106 Pa), there is a risk of fire, corrosion or toxicity, and
Supple and flexible thermal insulation assemblies used for temperatures above 1,000°C.
An amendment which came into force on 1 January 2011, banned all new installations.
SOLAS bans the “new installation” of asbestos. This means that asbestos which is already in ship stores (in unused and spare parts, for example) may remain on board the ship, but may not actually be installed. This presumably avoids the expense of having to remove such materials from the stores. It is recommended that owners ensure asbestos or asbestos-containing materials within stores are properly managed and not used.
For new builds, this wording also means that items containing asbestos purchased before 1 January, 2011, may not be installed. For example, a windlass purchased and delivered to the yard before 31 December, 2010, which has asbestos brake linings would have to have the linings removed if the yard wished to install today.
The role of flag states and recognised organisations in ensuring compliance with SOLAS
Flag states are responsible for ensuring that the provisions of the SOLAS Convention are properly represented in national law and for enforcing the Convention’s requirements within their national limits and on board ships which fly their flag.
Recognised organisations (ROs) are authorised by the flag state to carry out on their behalf the statutory surveys and certification required to demonstrate compliance. Classification societies commonly act as an RO for over 140 countries’ administrations. Flag states can also apply local laws and requirements to ships which fly their flag.
The ISM Code
All SOLAS Convention ships must comply with the International Safety Management (ISM) Code. This requires companies to identify safety risks, including asbestos risks.
The International Organisation for Standardization (ISO) publishes a number of standards on asbestos. These are not legal requirements unless directly referenced by law.
The US legal position on banning asbestos
On 12 July, 1989, The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final ruling banning most asbestos-containing products. This was an early move in comparison to other countries, and perhaps because of this it was overturned on appeal in New Orleans in 1991. The ruling was clarified to ban specific products (flooring felt, rollboard, and corrugated, commercial, or speciality paper) and ‘new uses’ of asbestos. This meant that products already being made that contained asbestos could continue to be manufactured.
This is of vital importance to the shipping industry as “EPA does not track the manufacture processing or distribution in commerce of asbestos-containing products”. Therefore, many items which shipyards (or other manufacturers in the shipping supply chain) buy from the US might contain asbestos but there is no legal requirement for the item manufacturer to declare this. The US consumes about 1,100 tonnes of asbestos per year to make asbestos- containing products.