The USS Belknap, named after the esteemed Rear Admiral George Eugene Belknap, was first cast at Bath, Maine, by the Bath Iron Works Corporation at Bath on February 5, 1962. Originally conceived to be the Navy’s lead ship of the guided missile cruiser class, the USS Belknap officially launched on July 20, 1963, under the classification of DLG-26. Later on, after the designation system was modified, the USS Belknap was reclassified as CG-26 on June 30, 1975.
Collision in the Mediterranean
On November 22, 1975, the USS Belknap was involved in a serious accident with the USS John F. Kennedy off the coast of Sicily. Rocked by heavy weather as the two ships collided, the USS Belknap suffered major damage as a fire broke out on the ship. The ship’s aluminum superstructure was engulfed, causing horrendous damage and essentially eliminating it up to the deck level. Seven people were killed—six crew members from the USS Belknap and one from the USS John F. Kennedy.
The following rescue efforts were aided by the ammunition ship USS Mount Baker (AE-34), which escorted the Belknap to an ammunition depot, providing electrical and water services as the Mount Baker’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal team quickly retrieved the loose and remaining ammunition on the Belknap. The remaining crew members were brought onto the Mount Baker until they could be transferred to a way-station to be reassigned.
This disastrous incident, which could have been avoided had the Belknap’s superstructure been made of steel, caused the U.S. Navy to reconsider current policy and implement an all-steel construction for its next major classes of surface combatants.
The Belknap underwent extensive repairs at the Philadelphia Naval Yard from January 30, 1976, to May 10, 1980. Following her repairs, the Belknap continued to serve the Navy until she was converted to a flagship by the Norfolk Navy Yard during the period of May 1985 to February 1986.
The Belknap played a final important role at the Malta Summit between U.S. President George H. W. Bush and Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev on December 2–3, 1989, as she served as the president’s sleeping quarters. As a precaution due to stormy weather, the scheduled meetings on the Belknap were moved to the Soviet cruise ship SS Maxim Gorkiy.
The ship was decommissioned and stricken from the naval register on February 15, 1995, and sank as a target during a routine SINKEX exercise on September 24, 1998.
Asbestos in Navy Ships
Although an essential component of the naval fleet, even today, naval cruisers also pose 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.