For many decades, asbestos was widely used on ships – in areas such as fire bulkheads, ceiling panels, exhaust and pipeline insulation, cable transit insulation, gaskets, and electrical installations – because of its excellent insulation and fire-resistance qualities.
But exposure to asbestos fibres is linked to a range of illnesses, including asbestosis and cancer, and the Union continues to recover compensation for hundreds of members suffering from asbestos-related illnesses.
After SOLAS Convention rules banned the use of asbestos on new ships with effect from 2002, it was hoped that the problem had been consigned to the past – but the discovery by Nautilus of a newly-built ship riddled with asbestos prompted the launch of a major new campaign to tackle the threat posed to seafarers by the deadly material.
The Union is concerned that shipyards in certain parts of the world are continuing to make extensive use of the substance, and that asbestos is coming onboard ships through spare parts — even sometimes in products that are stamped asbestos-free, because of the problem of counterfeit parts.
Nautilus understands that the effects of working on ships with asbestos many not be known for many years. Therefore the Union set up a register where members can record the ships they have worked on which are known to contain asbestos, and the companies which employed them.
This register has been in existence for many years and contains the confidential personal details of more than 320 members who believe that they have been exposed to the substance whilst at work.
This register can then be used to support any claims that may arise if evidence of asbestosis or other related diseases emerge.
Nautilus International has extensive experience of representing members affected by asbestos in the workplace. The Union handles compensation claims for those suffering from asbestos-related diseases, and we continue to be involved in a UK trade union movement campaign against a controversial legal ruling that denied payments of damages to people who have developed asymptomatic pleural plaques.
Nautilus has taken its evidence of present-day asbestos problems to the International Federation of Ship Masters’ Associations, governments, and the International Maritime Organisation. The Union has led calls for tougher action to ensure compliance with the national and international rules governing the use of asbestos, along with training for seafarers to help them identify asbestos products and take precautionary measures.
Nautilus is continuing to raise awareness of the threat of asbestos – both among seafarers and regulators. The Union is pressing for the adoption of the Ship Recycling Convention requirements for all ships of 500gt and above to develop and maintain an Inventory of Hazardous Materials (IHM). This ship-specific document will have to list all the materials onboard a ship that may present health or environmental hazards, and require careful handling or special awareness.
The Union is campaigning for much better enforcement and policing of the SOLAS regulations on asbestos. We need to explore why and where the control mechanisms for the existing regulations fall short, and to see how seafarers can be made better prepared to understand and identify the dangers of asbestos. We want improved systems for collecting data and information on asbestos-related incidents, and to bring these incidents to the attention of our members and the responsible authorities.
Nautilus is also urging owners to conduct asbestos surveys of their vessels and to conduct asbestos awareness and recognition training for seafarers and shore staff.
Nautilus members are urged to support this work by to adding their names to the Union’s asbestos register. By contacting the Union’s legal department and supplying information about the dates when they believe exposure occurred, members can provide valuable assistance with compensation claims.