USS Dolphin AGS-555 (1968-2007)
Built beginning in 1962, the USS Dolphin AGSS-555 was built for deep-diving research rather than combat. Launched on June 8, 1968, she was commissioned on August 17 under the auspices of Lieutenant Commander J.R. McDonnell.
Designed for Research
The Dolphin was designed with a specialized pressure hull. Unlike other submarines, its body is cylinder of constant diameter and all hull openings are minimized to keep hull weight to a minimum and prevent flooding. She is also fitted with scientific instrumentation for, among other applications, deep-water acoustic research, ocean surveys, weapons testing, and sensor trials. Additionally, she was designed to be able to hold up to 12 tons of special research equipment.
Abandonment at Sea
While off the coast of San Diego on May 12, 2002, one of the Dolphin’s torpedo shield door gaskets failed, allowing water to begin flooding into the vessel. High winds and waves made the situation worse, allowing between 70 and 85 tons of water into the sub, compromising her ability to float, shorting out electrical systems, and causing fires. John D. Wise, Jr., a Chief Machinist’s Mate, swam into the cramped, flooded pump room to realign the valves and remained there to keep the pump from clogging.
Ultimately, however, the crew could not repair the ship and were evacuated to nearby research ship the McGaw. Only minor injuries were sustained, and the crew was returned to San Diego. Wise was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his actions, which placed the sub in a stable enough condition to be towed into port the next day. For the next three and a half years, the Dolphin received extensive repairs at a cost of $50 million.
Despite the repairs, the USS Dolphin was retired in 2006 and decommissioned in January of the following year. However, she was not sold for scrap, but brought to the San Diego Maritime Museum to serve as an exhibit there. She has been open for public viewing since July 4, 2009.
Asbestos in Navy Ships
Although an essential component of the naval fleet, especially throughout conflicts of the last century, submarines also pose a lasting health risk to soldiers serving on them. However, these risks extend beyond the inherent dangers that existed while operating the vessels during military conflicts. Unfortunately, products containing asbestos were also common aboard submarines 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. Furthermore, the enclosed environment of submarines put servicemen at an even higher risk of exposure. Current and former military personnel who came into contact with or served on submarines should seek immediate medical attention in order to detect possible health consequences associated with asbestos exposure.