USS Ashtabula AO-51 (1943-1982)

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The USS Ashtabula was constructed by the Bethlehem Steel Company based out of Sparrows Point, Massachusetts. She was a Cimarron oiler, with, 7,470 tons of displacement. After being launched on May 22, 1943, she was commissioned under the command of Commander Louis. J. Modave on August 7, 1943.

Service in World War II

After completing her shakedown voyage on the east coast and undergoing training, the ship sailed toward the Long Beach Navy Yard via Aruba and the Panama Canal. She loaded on fuel oil and gasoline on September 10 and then steamed for Pearl Harbor on January 1, 1944. After reaching her new home port, she remained in the area for a brief time before being assigned to Task Group 58, and then sailed with them to the Marshall Islands. There, she was stationed at Majuro Lagoon, where she fueled the various destroyers and carriers of the task force. After the operation, she headed back to Pearl Harbor and then back to the United States.

Upon completing a brief overhaul and subsequent loading of fuel, the Ashtabula was ordered back to Pearl Harbor and later sailed to the Philippines. There, she supported the liberation invasion of the islands, and was stationed at Humboldt Bay and Leyte Gulf. While there, on October 22, 1944, she was attacked by Japanese aircraft. One succeeded in hitting her with a torpedo on the port side. There were no casualties from the hit, but the ship began listing to the port side. After some emergency repairs, she was able to resume operations. After completing her work in the Philippines, she sailed back to San Pedro, California, where she was fully repaired.

Service in the Korean and Vietnam Wars

The Ashtabula also participated in several Korean War operations. On September 27, she reached Pearl Harbor and then went toward Sasebo, Japan. She remained in this area as part of the 7th Fleet for a year, until August 1951. Following a decade spent in the United States, the Ashtabula also conducted oiling operations in Vietnam.

On September 30, 1982, she underwent inactivation overhaul at Pearl Harbor and was subsequently decommissioned on September 30, 1982. She then was assigned to the National Defense Reserve Fleet for several decades until October 15, 2000. She was used as target practice in a training exercise and sank.

Asbestos in Navy Ships

Although an essential component of the naval fleet, some tankers also posed a lasting health risk to soldiers serving on them. Unfortunately, products containing asbestos were common, especially on older ships, because of the material’s high resistance to heat and fire. Despite its value as an insulator, asbestos fiber intake can lead to several serious health consequences, including mesothelioma, a devastating cancer without cure. Current and former military personnel who came into contact with these ships should seek immediate medical attention to detect possible health consequences associated with asbestos exposure.


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