Statehood for the Washington Territory was seven years in the future when Robert Moran opened a small boat repair shop on Yesler’s Dock in the rough frontier logging town of Seattle in 1882. Thirty-five years later in 1916, the expanded business – then known as Seattle Construction & Dry Dock Company – was merged with two east coast operations to form the nucleus of what would ultimately be known as Todd Pacific Shipyards, Inc.
Over the decades, Todd facilities have serviced vessels of the U.S. and Royal Australian Navies as well as the U.S. Coast Guard, commercial freighters, research vessels of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and ships of the Alaska State Marine Highway System. One of their main customers over the years however has been Washington State Ferries; the Spokane and the Walla Walla, two of the largest double-ended ferries ever built, were products of the Todd Pacific Shipyards.
The years of the Second World War were busy ones for the company; during one 36-month period, the Seattle Division produced 126 ships of six different classes. Between 1950 and the late 1970s, the yard turned out four Charles Adams Class Guided Missile Destroyers, seven Knox Class Frigates, thirteen Oliver Hazard Perry Class Frigates, a floating dry dock, and the USNS Hayes, a catamaran-hulled oceanographic research ship.
Todd Pacific filed for bankruptcy in 1986, reorganizing and emerging from bankruptcy in 1990. Today, the company focuses primarily on marine repair and maintenance on its 46-acre facility on Seattle’s Harbor Island. The company is ISO 9001-2000 certified, currently employs over 800 workers and recognizes 11 different labor unions.
Ship Manufacture and Asbestos
It is a matter of public record that the asbestos industry engaged in a massive cover-up when it came to the harmful health effects of asbestos, such as the possibility of contracting an asbestos related illness such as asbestosis or pleural plaques, or even an asbestos cancer, such as lung cnacer or mesothelioma. Whether or not the ship building industry was aware of it is a matter of debate; certainly the U.S. Navy had such information. A memo entitled “Asbestos” was issued by a naval medical officer and addressed to Rear Admiral Ross McIntire early in 1941. It stated, “…we are not protecting these men as we should”. This same memo indicates that orders not to disclose this information may have come from President Roosevelt himself, who, anticipating U.S. involvement in World War II, feared “disturbances in the labor element”.
In 1943, the federal government finally issued a series of “standards intended to protect a shipyard force that labored 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in massive fogs of asbestos dust”. These standards were not enforced until the late 1970s, however.
The other problem was that only 0.2% of all shipyard employees were classified as “asbestos workers.” The fact is that virtually everyone who worked in a shipyard prior to 1980 was exposed to asbestos to some degree. Ironically, asbestos was ultimately responsible for as many deaths as combat injuries.
Determining liability in asbestos or mesothelioma lawsuits requires careful research. The Navy has denied any liability in this matter, and proving that shipyard management was deliberately negligent is difficult; the usual and more appropriate strategy is to seek damages from the asbestos industry itself.
Several mesothelioma lawyers are building and maintaining databases of information regarding asbestos companies, their customers, and how and where specific asbestos products were used, and may be able to be of assistance to those that have been diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, or another form of asbestos related illness.