U.S.S. Sylvania AFS-2 (Combat Stores Ship)
Commissioned in 1964 after construction at National Steel and Shipbuilding, USS Sylvania was a combat stores ship built for the mission of transporting supplies to operational fleet units. Sylvania was equipped with a flight deck to support the transfer of cargo via helicopter, enhancing its ability to support units from a distance while simultaneously transferring stores to ships alongside.
Operating in the Mediterranean with the Sixth fleet, Sylvania accomplished the first replenishment of an aircraft carrier using helicopters in 1965. For the remainder of the 1960s the ship provided replenishment services for the fleet operating in the Mediterranean, interspersed with maintenance availabilities for upkeep and repair.
Sylvania continued operating in the Atlantic and Mediterranean for most of its operational career with the US Navy. Alternating primarily with USS San Diego and USS Concord, Sylvania helped to ensure that sufficient replenishment was always available to support the American naval presence in the critical areas of the Mediterranean and mid-east.
In 1976, returning from one such deployment, Sylvania carried the King Tutankhamen Exhibit to the United States for display at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
The 1980s saw a continuation of such duties, intensifying as various crises in the region called for an increase of US and NATO naval presence. Supporting ships of other nations, operating in concert with US ships, became a part of Sylvania’s mission. Conflicts with Libya, the Iran-Iraq war, Iranian mining of the Gulf and the Iranian Hostage Crisis all took place during the decade, and the American fleet expansion in the areas afflicted meant heavy duty for the replenishment ships, including Sylvania.
In the early 1990s, Sylvania supported the fleet in the Mediterranean and Red Sea, at one time providing replenishment support for three separate carrier task forces during the build-up to Operation Desert Storm.
Asbestos Exposure on USS Sylvania
As with all ships constructed at the time, materials containing asbestos were used in USS Sylvania. Components of the ship which contained asbestos could be found in virtually all compartments and spaces on the ship.
In addition to asbestos containing epoxies, brake liners, clutches, valve packing, gaskets and seals, fire retardants, electrical panels and switches, and fireproofing, asbestos insulation covered the pipes which ran the length and breadth of the ship. Removal of the insulation to perform maintenance or repair on pipes and valves, which themselves wore valve insulation jackets manufactured from asbestos, would cause asbestos fibers to be released into the air.
Although painted, the insulation was frequently in hard to get at areas, and deterioration of the paint and insulation could easily go undetected for extended periods. Sylvania’s strenuous operational schedule would often dictate that routine maintenance be deferred in favor of replenishment commitments, adding to the potential for onboard exposure.