Shipping’s most deadly
Asbestos in ships going for
scrap is a deadly factor for
workers, but the risks have
been known for a long time.
Insurers and owners face
heavy liability - and are
trying to wriggle away from
It was just a temporary job for "There's a huge legacy of Theresa McGuire's husband
a teenager to earn spending asbestos disease out of the worked in shipbuilding and
money And it killed her. maritime industry," Johnson brought asbestos home on his
It took just two weeks of tells Fairplay. boiler suit. She contracted
working in a dockside He spends a huge amount of mesothelioma.
warehouse repairing asbestos time litigating on behalf of Asbestos is an international
impregnated hessian sacks for sufferers who were exposed to business and political issue.
Margaret Kirkwood to contract asbestos in Liverpool's There is barely a sector of US
mesothelioma a 100 %fatal shipping and shipbuilding industry that hasn't been
form of cancer associated with industries. touched by asbestos lawsuits.
exposure to asbestos dust. The case of Shell Tankers v Actuaries reckon that, by the
“The majority of people who Jeromson (2001) is instructive. turn of the century, more than
work with asbestos do not Shell was sued by the widows 200,000 asbestos lawsuits were
contract asbestos related of engineers who served on filed in US courts, with another
disease But it can be only one the company's ships during the 60,000 added in 2000 alone.
asbestos fibre for 1950s. The engine rooms were That's three times more than
mesothelioma.” John Flanagan, insulated with asbestos, which filed, on average, in the 1990s.
of the Merseyside Asbestos had to be stripped away and Such suits are multiplying
Victim Support group, tells then repaired when pipes burst partly because of the emergence
Fairplay or leaking joints needed to be of 'claims farmers', who
There is, he adds, only one fixed. encourage those exposed to
way to avoid contracting the asbestos to sue. Then there's
disease Don't work with Cut asbestos with handsaws the realisation of a 'second-tier'
asbestos But that's not a choice of exposure - namely those
for the workers in the breaking Workers stripped asbestos, cut exposed to dust being brought
yards of India, Bangladesh or it up using handsaws and home,
China cleared the waste by brushing Finally, more people are falling
Pressure groups seeking to it up. Then they mixed up ill now that the latency period is
improve scrap yard safety have a new batch of asbestos up.
succeeded in blocking the insulation and applied it in All this is producing huge
scrapping of the French aircraft layers, by hand, in hot and dry political pressure to reform the
carrier Clemenceau in India and conditions. tort system.
the iconic cruise liner Norway in Such crude methods gave One US bill, the Fairness in
Bangladesh. Both were said rise to visible amounts of Asbestos Injury Resolution Act
by environmental, health and asbestos dust. Workers in the (2005) is being considered by
rights activists to have ports and associated industries Congress. It would set up a
unacceptable amounts of toxic were exposed, too. Asbestos $140Bn trust fund that would
materials, especially asbestos, was transported in hessian supplant all current asbestos
on board. sacks, which were hauled litigation.
Thousands of other, lower- around on hooks by dockers. The total cost of such
profile ships are due for The sacks were also split litigation in the US alone is
scrapping in the next few years, open with circular saws, which estimated at $200-275Bn, legal
meaning that countries with released powdered asbestos sources tell Fairplay. The
scrapping industries are in into chutes quickly. The bags pressure of litigation has forced
danger of creating an asbestosis were often piled up and many companies into
time bomb. dockers, working long shifts, bankruptcy.
Asbestos disease is a big would often crawl into the Shipping bankruptcies,
problem in Europe and the US. heaps to get some sleep, all whether asbestos-related or not
Nearly 1,900 people die from the time breathing asbestos. - such as American Shipbuilding
mesothelioma each year in the The sacks would often be (1993), Lykes (1995), Prudential
UK. Adding asbestos-related sent on to be repaired at Lines (1986), Todd Shipyards
lung cancers nearly doubles that factories where young workers (1987), US Lines (1986) and
figure. such as Margaret Kirkwood Waterman Steamship (1983) -
And the numbers are about to received her fatal exposure. cause many lawyers to worry
get a great deal worse. A Those workers took the dust that clients will not be fairly
quarter of a million people in home on their clothes and compensated.
Western Europe will die of exposed their families. When a company is sued, it
mesotheliomas by 2035, Powdered asbestos was even pays the victim and is
researchers tell Fairplay. heaped up on the dockside. reimbursed in turn by its insurer.
The reason for the surge in "We are repeatedly told that But when the company
claim numbers is simple: the by various workers, certainly disappears, then the insurer is
latency period for asbestos dockers, they would play not compelled to pay up,
diseases - 10- 40 years - is up, snowball fights with it," In Fanti v Padre Island,
and more people are falling Flanagan tells Fairplay. England's highest court held that
sick. Britain's youngest pay-first clauses are legitimate
"It's going to continue. It's mesothelioma sufferer, Barry in cargo cases. However,
likely to be 2015-2020 before Welch, died recently aged 32. Johnson explains, all the P&I
mesothelioma claims [reach a] When he was small, he inhaled clubs bar one have assured that
plateau," agrees Kevin Johnson, asbestos dust while sitting in they would not try to uphold the
a partner with Liverpool legal his stepfather's lap; it came 'pay to be paid' principles in
firm J Pickering & Partners. from the man's overalls, skin cases involving personal injury.
An asbestos awareness day and hair. Domestic exposure Other P&I clubs - and by
took place on 27 February - was particularly dangerous extension other ship owners -
which the shipping sector might because the fibres from work are also affected in such cases
have done well to mark, but clothes could remain airborne because of the knock-on effect
didn't. for days. that causes higher premiums.
Dying from cancer
John Bradshaw, 70, was an
insulation lagger. He was
diagnosed with a terminal
cancer of the stomach linings
(peritoneal mesothelioma) in
November last year. He was
frequently exposed to asbestos
dust from the mid-1950s
"Imagine that you have a
boiler house to work in, you
have hot pipes and all of this
has to be insulated;' he tells
Fairplay. "All the materials were
in bags in powder form, and you
throw the stuff into the drums
and mix it. Our heads were in
these 45 gallon drums every day
... No protection, no masks. We
were forced to work in little tiny
confined spaces. You needed to
have the heat on, so it was
stinking hot. The dust was just One P&I market analyst complains. "You virtually
Ship breaking offers Fairplay perspective can't sue the buggers.
" ... The first I realised was in worker in on why ship-owners and You've got to find the
November last year. I had this India hauls their insurers contest liability shipping companies and
bloody great lump that popped asbestos, vigorously: "It is true that their insurers."
up in my gut when I sat up in the P&I clubs encourage Johnson agrees: "I have
bed. I thought it must have their members to fight had three cases were the
Greenpeace claims hard, but such an clients did not receive full
been a hernia. I went to the
doctor. As soon as he saw it he approach is not designed to compensation. It is a very
had me fast-tracked for cancer achieve a result that is regrettable stance that the
to the hospital and got a CT balanced in their favour. insurers have taken.
scan. My wife and my younger "It's simply designed to "It causes very grave
son were with me. We were just produce a result that is fair prejudice to people who
stunned into silence, basically to both the injured person have gone out, done a job
stunned, shocked. and to the ship-owner," he and contracted a very
"It's not until you get home explains. unpleasant disease through
and think about it: someone's "I'm afraid that there have no fault of their own," the
just told me that I'm due to go been cases of lawyers and Liverpool lawyer tells
to the knackers'yard.1 was quite others acting for deserving Fairplay. Further, ship-
sickened. To be honest it hasn't claimants whose primary owners sometimes insist
sunk in now. I don't really think, objective has not been to that they lack the asbestos
this is it, I'm going to die. It's a serve the claimants, but knowledge that land based
soul-destroying thing ... I rather to enrich themselves. employers have.
watched my brother die of That often comes about in "I've faced arguments from
exactly the same thing. It's countries where the 'claims lawyers that the date of
painful. There's discomfort and professions' are not knowledge of asbestos
aches all the time, and I have to sufficiently well regulated or being hazardous wasn't
take painkillers where they are remunerated until 1979 - which is
... I have two or three days in on a contingency-fee basis. ridiculous," Johnson snorts.
bed after every session, and I "Sadly, the claimants English law is clear: it
basically can't lift my head up. themselves have insufficient requires an employer to
" ... You look into the mirror knowledge to enable them consider the safety of
and see all these wrinkles and to control those representing workers in light of what the
realise that you are losing them," the source adds. employer ought to know.
weight. I watched my brother go "Our objective is simply to Not only is the employer
down to 5 stone. ensure that deserving required to remain aware of
"I really believe that they claimants receive proper developments, he also must
knew about it. I used to sit with compensation and that the seek out knowledge and
the older men, and they would system of compensation apply it.
be talking about it. They knew operates without And cases of asbestosis in
about asbestosis. They knew it unnecessary waste." shipyard workers date back
could kill you. So the Flanagan of the Merseyside to 1940, with the first
management who had you victims' group sees it modern case of asbestosis
working in it knew, too. It was differently: "Shipping recorded about 1914. In
brushed under the carpet and company cases are ruthless. 1931.Safety Engineering
tried to hide it because of the There are people literally Magazine ran articles on the
cost. dying and they only ever dangers of asbestos,
receive state benefit, no warning that the dust was
“Most of my friends are compensation," he seriously harmful should be
dead through it.” controlled.
In 1945, the UK's factories
inspector warned manufacturers
of insulation products about
dangers in shipbuilding. Under the
heading 'Asbestos Insulation
Aboard Ships; the letter said:
“I am concerned by ... the use of
asbestos, either alone or as part
of a mixture, in the
shipbuilding and ship
repairing industries mainly
for the purpose of heat and
sound insulation and the
accompanying increase in
the numbers of workers
exposed to risk of injury to
health through asbestosis.”
It added: “While asbestos dust
may not have any apparent
effects at first, experience shows
that ... serious results are apt to
He concluded by noting that arrangements on
the controlled use of asbestos had been
accepted by the Shipbuilding Employers'
Federation and by the trade unions.
Mesotheliomas started being recognised by doctors in Jump forward to 2001 and the UK's Shell Tankers case,
1943. About 20 years later, major international in which the Court of Appeal upheld the original ruling
conferences on asbestos diseases were reported granting the remedies sought by the claimants.
worldwide, including in The New Yorker magazine. "The judge was entitled to conclude that a prudent
employer would have taken precautions or, at the very
Known risk to families least made enquiries about what precautions, if any,
they should take," declared Lady Justice Hale.
The Court of Appeal also endorsed the principle that
Also in the 1940s, it had become well established that
the threat from asbestos was sufficiently well known by
family members of people who worked with asbestos the 1950s for employers to be under a duty to reduce
were also risk. exposure.
In August 1945, the chief UK factories wrote to Today, in the form of Clemenceau, Norway, Riky,
leading manufacturers of insulation products to warn of Kong Frederik IX, the shipping industry is trying to
asbestos danger in shipbuilding (see box, left). deport toxic materials on to the workers in India and
At the same time, Fairplay was still carrying adverts Bangladesh –
extolling the benefits of fireproof asbestos clothing (see even while shipping boasts of its much-improved
photo). safety record in the West over the past 50-60 years.
Johnson finds it implausible "that organisations with the
resources that owners do should argue that they didn't
know about the risks."
Flanagan's reaction is clear cut: "It's good to open up markets in
India, but not at the cost of people's lives, not for the sake of profit."
Source: Fairplay March 2006