This vessel was the lead ship in the Navy’s Shearwater-class of auxiliary vessels. It was constructed and launched in 1944. The ship underwent a brief shakedown and training cruise, returning to the United States and remaining there until World War II ended.
In 1947, the USNS Shearwater was mothballed in the Navy’s Atlantic Reserve Fleet at Green Cove Springs, Florida. Despite plans to convert the ship into a minesweeper, the ship remained in the Atlantic Reserve Fleet until 1964.
However, the Military Sea Transportation Service activated the vessel for service in 1964, using it as a support ship. During this time it was redesignated the T-AG-177, receiving a major overhaul before getting recommissioned. Over the next five years, the Shearwater sailed throughout the Atlantic, aiding in the revision of numerous nautical navigation charts. However, the ship was decommissioned in 1969, although the vessel was awarded a National Defense Service Medal.
Asbestos in Navy Ships
Especially after the ship’s extensive overhaul, the Shearwater posed a significant asbestos risk. Unfortunately, repairs of this type exposed great amounts of asbestos fiber insulation, which is most dangerous when broken into small particles. Although an essential component of the naval fleet, many of these auxiliary vessels 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 in order to detect possible health consequences associated with asbestos exposure.