Shipping's most deadly time bomb

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Shipping's most deadly time bomb Powered By Docstoc
					Shipping’s most deadly
time bomb
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.
everywhere, everywhere.
   " ... 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
                                       according to
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
develop later.”
  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
         www.fairplay .com

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