More than half of all cargo vessels in use today contain asbestos, according to an estimate from a maritime compliance company.

Singapore-based Maritec made the startling claim in an April 7 release that detailed the results of nine years worth of asbestos surveys for corporate compliance with International Maritime Organization (IMO) standards. These Inventory of Hazardous Materials surveys — which are akin to inspections — show that shipbuilders continue to illegally use asbestos in merchant marine ships, despite IMO regulations prohibiting its use in any vessel built after 2010.

While the headline for the release claims that 65 percent of all cargo vessels have asbestos in them, this appears to be an error, as the actual percentages disclosed in the release belie that number. The release states that more than 55 percent of existing vessels had some asbestos-contaminated materials and more than half of all newly built ships contain the carcinogen.

Post-Declaration Discovery

“Although newbuild ships are delivered with an asbestos-free declaration, in many cases asbestos has been found on board during subsequent surveys, or port state inspections,” Maritec General Manager John Rendi said in the release.

According to the survey results, more than 63 percent of all asbestos fibers found on shipping vessels can be found on pipe flange gaskets, valve packing and auxiliary equipment. Auxiliary equipment can include pumps, compressors, condensers, and oil purifiers.

Other onboard equipment that often contains the hazardous material includes boilers, economizers, heat exchangers and inert gas systems.

Conflicting Standards

The release noted that these issues are often compounded by differing asbestos restrictions between countries. It stated that in the U.S., cargo ships can have up to 1 percent of asbestos content and still be classified as free of asbestos, whereas the threshold in France is zero.

“A gasket that is classified asbestos-free in Singapore or the U.S. may not be considered asbestos-free in, say Australia, New Zealand or France, where the tolerance is higher when it comes to permissible value,” according to Maritec Operations Manager Alvin Lee. “It’s a big problem.”

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