By IAN KIRKWOOD
Tug company Svitzer has pulled two of its nine Newcastle tugs out of work after one of the Chinese-built vessels was found to contain asbestos.
The Maritime Union of Australia, which raised the alarm, said both vessels were certified as being clear of asbestos before they sailed to Australia.
The union’s assistant national secretary, Ian Bray, said the asbestos was contained in electrical wiring and had led the union to take a ‘‘closer look’’ at Svitzer vessels in other Australian ports.
Svitzer has confirmed asbestos in one vessel, the Warunda, and inspections are under way in its sister ship, the Warrego.
Mr Bray said concerns were raised after an asbestos-free certificate for one of Svitzer’s tugs said it had been inspected in Brisbane on a day the union knew it was in Bowen, more than 1000kilometres north.
“How the tug could be in two place at once is interesting in itself,” Mr Bray said. “Either there is a serious cock-up on this occasion or we are dealing with a bipolar tug.”
Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia president Barry Robson said asbestos was repeatedly found in machinery imported from China.
Newcastle’s Bradken came under fire last year when a fleet of imported Chinese locomotives were found to have asbestos in their brake pads, despite certification clearing them.
Svitzer Australia’s communications manager, Jeff Singleton, said the tugs had been imported, second-hand, from China because there was ‘‘no recognised’’ Australian tug-building industry.
Mr Singleton released four inspection reports showing more than 1000 asbestos gaskets and varying amounts of asbestos lagging, or pipe insulation, had been taken from each ship before leaving China.
‘‘It is particularly disappointing given the time and money Svitzer spent on getting both vessels a clean bill of health,’’ Mr Singleton said.
The certificates show the work was done in stages between July and September last year in a Shanghai shipyard.
Both vessels came back with clear results when tested in China for airborne asbestos in their engine rooms.
Mr Singleton said the company did not know what the union was referring to with the Brisbane test results.
He said an electrician preparing the Warunda for service had suspected asbestos was present in some wiring he cut, and this was confirmed by testing.
He said all of the Warunda’s wiring was being replaced, and inspections were taking place on the Warrego to see if similar work was needed.
He said Svitzer had kept the relevant authorities and regulators fully informed and would pay for health checks for any employees who worked on either vessel.
‘‘The advice from experts is that the risks are extremely low to negligible, but we want people to have peace of mind,’’ Mr Singleton said.
By Matt Carr
SVITZER has responded to union claims two of their tugs operating in Newcastle contained asbestos.
The union's assistant national secretary Ian Bray said Chinese-built tugs the Warrunda and Warrego were identified as having higher levels than is recommended.
In a statement, Mr Bray said he was under the impression the tugs had received asbestos free certificates and the discovery put other tugs operating around the country under a cloud.
“In relation to the two Newcastle tugs, Svitzer have undertaken at least three safety audits, showing asbestos, yet the company still imported these vessels into Australia in contravention of customs and safety laws,” Mr Bray said.
Mr Bray said the union's suspicious were aroused when one of the asbestos-free certificates was issued showing an inspection occurred when a tug was operating elsewhere at the same time.
“How the tug could be in two place at once is interesting in itself,” Mr Bray said.
“I’m really disappointed in Svitzer’s recent behavior and they need to satisfy this union and the workers employed on their tugs that they are going to provide safe workplaces."
The union's Newcastle branch secretary Glen Williams said he was upset with the company on behalf of his members.
“I genuinely hope this was an oversight," he said.
A Svitzer spokesman confirmed asbestos was located when an electrician found a cable suspected of containing asbestos aboard the Warunda.
"The asbestos was located in the cable’s core concealed between live wires and encased in two layers of insulation," the spokesman said.
"Both the Warunda and her sister ship the Warrego, which arrived in Australia around the same time, were immediately quarantined."
He said relevant authorities were informed at all time.
"This entire incident is particularly disappointing given the time and money Svitzer spent making sure both these vessels had a clean bill of health before bringing them into the country," the spokesman said.
"While Svitzer is not alone in facing the challenge of managing the threat posed by asbestos, we are determined to not only comply with but wherever possible, exceed Federal and state regulations."
"Neither vessel will be brought into service until the experts have issued the appropriate clearance certificates."
The company has agreed to health checks for all employees who have been aboard or near both vessels.
"Even though the advice from experts is that the risks are extremely low to negligible, Svitzer is determined to give people peace of mind," the spokesman said.
This story was originally published here.