United States Navy Auxiliary Ships

Every U.S. Navy ship built between the late 1930s and the early 1980s used asbestos-containing materials (ACM). Auxiliary vessels were no exception. Fire was a main fear onboard all ships. That was especially risky in Navy boats that had regular attack threats

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About US Navy Auxiliary Ships

Auxiliary ships are the United States Navy workhorses. Auxiliaries provide the necessary logistical support to keep a naval fleet operational whether at peace or in war. As long as the U.S. has possessed a navy, they’ve used auxiliary ships to maintain it. The Navy simply wouldn’t be able to function if it weren’t for its Military Sealift Command and Combat Support Ship segment.

Today, the U.S. Navy is the world’s most powerful sea force. It’s also the best equipped. The Navy has over 325,000 enlisted personnel and officers. It also has 430 commissioned warships including aircraft carriers, frigates, amphibious ships, and submarines. All would cease to function if not for the auxiliary ship presence.

Most of the Navy’s current auxiliary vessels are unarmed or at least bear minimal firepower to prevent unlawful boarding. Auxiliary tenders depend on the fleet’s big guns to do the defensive work while they quietly go about fueling, feeding, repairing and towing other Navy combat vessels.

These are some of the roles the United States Navy auxiliary ships assume:

  • Hospital and medical aid
  • Floating barracks
  • Food, supplies and water stores
  • Ammunition and explosives containment
  • Repair and maintenance functions
  • Oilers and takers
  • Salvage duties
  • Research and technology development
  • Training and education
  • Surveys
  • Tug and towing
  • Crane and heavy lifting services
  • Cargo transit and storage
  • Submarine tenders
  • Search and rescue operations
  • Seaplane retrieval
  • Torpedo testing and reclaim
  • Diving and underwater recovery

During World War II, the U.S. Navy had hundreds of auxiliary ships. They were massed produced to serve and protect foreign battle fleets. War-time production required shipbuilders to use materials they were familiar with and depend on. The main material used in building auxiliary ships was asbestos.

Asbestos Use in Navy Auxiliary Ships

Asbestos products seemed the logical choice for most shipbuilding applications. Asbestos was fireproof, provided excellent insulation properties and was non-corrosive. That was perfect for saltwater ships. ACM products were cheap to produce and raw materials were easy to get. As well, asbestos was chemically stable and apparently safe to work with. At least shipbuilders thought so at the time.

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By the 1980s, ACM was no longer seen as user-friendly. Asbestos fibers were a proven carcinogen and responsible for making U.S. Navy veterans the largest group of mesothelioma patients. Many veterans developed this disease after being exposed to asbestos while serving onboard Navy auxiliary ships.

Types Asbestos Products Used in Auxiliary Ships

Over 300 different ACM products were used in manufacturing Navy ships. Every auxiliary vessel built during the peak asbestos-use period utilized asbestos material throughout the ship.

The most common ACM products included:

High Asbestos-Risk Occupations on Auxiliary Ships

Every United States Navy veteran who served on an auxiliary ship built between World War II and 1980 was exposed to airborne asbestos fibers. It was impossible to escape asbestos contamination in that environment. Those at highest risk were veterans who directly handled ACM or served below deck where confined spaces had poor ventilation.

High-risk Navy occupations included:

Help for Navy Veterans with Mesothelioma

Many U.S. Navy veterans who served aboard asbestos-laden auxiliary vessels had no idea of the danger they were placed in. Mesothelioma has an extremely long latency period. Ten to 50 years can pass from a veteran’s last exposure until mesothelioma symptoms appear. By then, it’s too late to prevent the disease. All that most mesothelioma patients can do is get legal help to help pay for the top life-extending treatment options.

Mesothelioma Support Team
Stephanie KiddWritten by:


Stephanie Kidd works tirelessly as a dedicated advocate for the vulnerable and underrepresented. Stephanie worked as a copywriter for an agency whose focus was communicating safety procedures on construction work sites. With her extensive background in victim advocacy and a dedication to seeing justice done, Stephanie works hard to ensure that all online content is reliable, truthful and helpful.

View 9 Sources
  1. United States Navy Official Website, General Information, Retrieved from http://www.navy.mil/ Accessed on 10 January 2018
  2. Military.com, “Asbestos Illness Related to Military Service” Retrieved from https://www.military.com/benefits/veteran-benefits/asbestos-and-the-military-history-exposure-assistance.html Accessed on 10 January 2018
  3. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, “Asbestos Fact Sheet” Retrieved from https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxfaqs/tfacts61.pdf Accessed on 10 January 2018
  4. Inhalation Toxicology International Forum for Respiratory Research, “Government and Navy Knowledge Regarding Health Hazards of Asbestos: A state of the science evaluation (1900 to 1970)” Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.3109/08958378.2011.643417 Accessed on 10 January 2018
  5. Mesothelioma Veterans Center, “Mesothelioma and Navy Veterans” Retrieved from https://www.mesotheliomaveterans.org/veterans/military/navy/ Accessed on 10 January 2018
  6. Department of Veterans Affairs, War Related Illness and Injury Study Center, “Asbestos Fact Sheet”, Retrieved from https://www.warrelatedillness.va.gov/WARRELATEDILLNESS/education/factsheets/asbestos-exposure.pdf Accessed on 10 January 2018
  7. Department of Veterans Affairs, “I am a Veteran” Retrieved from https://va.gov/opa/persona/index.asp Accessed on 10 January 2018
  8. Department of Veterans Affairs, “Exposure to Hazardous Materials – Asbestos” Retrieved from https://www.vets.gov/disability-benefits/conditions/exposure-to-hazardous-materials/asbestos/ Accessed on 10 January 2018
  9. VA/Vets.gov website, Veterans Disability and Healthcare Benefits”, Retrieved from https://www.vets.gov/ Accessed on 10 January 2018
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