The USS Constellation is a decommissioned US Naval super carrier. The ship was launched in 1960; however, commissioning was delayed until 1961 after a fire broke out. During the construction of the ship, a forklift accident caused a breach in one of the 500-gallon fuel tanks. The spilled fuel quickly reached lower levels of the ship where it ignited, filled the corridors with smoke and flame. Fifty people were killed during the blaze, which caused over 75 million dollars in damages. Once commissioned, the carrier went on to be an integral part of US naval operations for more than 40 years.
Action in Vietnam
Once repairs were made and construction was completed, the ship was finally commissioned in the autumn of 1961. The carrier spent much of the 60’s in the southeast Pacific, supporting various operations during the Vietnam War as part of the US Seventh Fleet. After making port in Hong Kong, the respite was broken when she was called in as support following the Gulf of Tonkin incident.
After nine months in the southeast Pacific, the ship returned to port at San Diego, where it spent the next eight months before being once more sent to Vietnamese waters in 1966. During this tour the carrier was heavily involved in sea-to-land bombardment of the roads and supply trains of the North Vietnamese. The following years would see the carrier make five tours of Vietnam in total.
After the 1970 refitting, the ship once more returned to the southeast Pacific where she was part of many tactical strikes in Laos, and against Northern Vietnamese forces. Her tour of duty was extended during this time to help combat the Northern Vietnamese’s eastern offensive.
After the War
At the end of the war, the ship finally saw its first peace-time duty in over ten years and became the first American naval vessel to enter the Persian Gulf since the year 1949. It returned to San Diego for major refitting during the mid 70’s. During the 80’s the ship was the object of Presidential attention when Ronald Reagan visited the ship. During the latter part of the decade the ship also participated in operation Earnest Will, protecting oil tankers in the Persian Gulf.
The ship also saw heavy action in the early days of the War on Terror and Operation Iraqi Freedom before being decommissioned in the summer of 2003. As of 2008 the ship was slated to be scrapped and disposed of.
Asbestos in Navy Ships
Although an essential component of the naval fleet, even today, aircraft carriers 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 in order to detect possible health consequences associated with asbestos exposure.