Tug company Svitzer has removed two of its nine Newcastle tugs from service after one of the Chinese-built vessels was found to contain asbestos, the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) reports.
The MUA 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.
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 1,000 kilometres north.
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.
Singleton released four inspection reports showing more than 1,000 asbestos gaskets and varying amounts of asbestos lagging, or pipe insulation, had been taken from each ship before leaving China.
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.
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.
According to Singleton 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.