MARITIME NZ has told commercial operators they need to understand and meet their health and safety obligations, including when staff are sent to work overseas.

This comes after Sealord, a seafood company, was sentenced for failing in its duty of care, by allowing its workers to be exposed to asbestos while working on-board the vessel, Will Watch. It was owned by an overseas subsidiary of Sealord.

“It is good to see Sealord take accountability and plead guilty prior to a trial needing to take place,” Maritime NZ general manager investigations Pete Dwen said.

At the time the exposed asbestos was reported, the vessel was operating out of Mauritius and New Zealand-based Sealord employees were being seconded to work on it.

While crew were seconded from Sealord, they were subject to the terms and conditions of their New Zealand employment agreement.

Maritime NZ investigated this because Sealord failed to ensure the safety of its workers prior to them leaving to undertake the work.

“Sealord failed in its responsibility to keep its workers safe,” Mr Dwen said.

“There should have been better consultation between Sealord and United Fame Investments (who is the subsidiary vessel owner) about the risks the asbestos posed to the workers. Sealord also should have done more to identify the risks or hazards the exposure to asbestos fibres on-board presented to its workers,” he said.

Senior staff members at Sealord monitored the vessel’s health and safety operations and provided input to its operating procedures. This oversight should have identified the issues with asbestos on Will Watch, Maritime NZ said.

Maritime NZ guidance states it is up to operators and other business that work on ships to manage asbestos; and operators have a general duty to eliminate or minimise exposure to airborne asbestos in the workplace.

“On top of the New Zealand guidelines and legislation, the International Maritime Organization says ‘asbestos should be managed properly,’ if identified,” Mr Dwen says.

Sealord failed to carry out adequate asbestos risk assessments, effectively consult with its subsidiary on the risks associate with it, and keep its workers safe, Maritime NZ said.

When Maritime NZ raised issues around the asbestos, Sealord stated it did not believe it posed a risk.

“Understanding the risks on-board a vessel is important for operators. Everyone deserves to be safe at work, and be protected against risks such as asbestos,” Mr Dwen said.

“Employers need to know the safety of staff is their responsibility, even if the workers are sent elsewhere and are not directly under their supervision.”