U.S.S. Independence CV 62 (Aircraft Carrier)
The fifth US Navy ship to bear the name, Independence was a Forrestal class aircraft carrier, designed and built for the launching and recovery of jet aircraft. The need to support jet engines necessitated the increase of fuel supplies to more than double that of the predecessor Midway class. Independence served the United States for nearly 40 years.
Built by the New York Naval Shipyard and commissioned in 1959, Independence displaced more than 80,000 tons fully loaded, and could support up to ninety aircraft, their pilots, and supporting crews. On any day at sea, more than 5,000 men (and eventually women) called the ship home.
Following initial deployments for training in the Caribbean and the east coast, Independence departed for the Mediterranean in August of 1960, waters where it would spend a large amount of its career. Until the mid-sixties, Independence operated in the Mediterranean, along the North American coast and in the North Atlantic, with periodic visits to its homeport of Norfolk. The ship participated in the naval quarantine of Cuba ordered by President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
In May 1965 Independence became the first Atlantic Fleet carrier to deploy to Vietnam, operating in the South China Sea for 100 days, launching over 7,000 sorties against targets in North Vietnam. Returning to Norfolk in December 1965, the carrier conducted routine training operations in the Atlantic, again operated with the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean, and made numerous port visits supporting NATO operations.
Throughout the remainder of the sixties and the ensuing decade, Independence remained with the Atlantic fleet, alternating deployments with necessary periods alongside for maintenance and completing scheduled overhauls. In 1974 Independence was among the first ships arriving at the crash site of TWA flight 841 which had been destroyed by a terrorist’s bomb while in flight.
By 1985, the ship had deployed to the Indian Ocean, the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific in support of American interests and crises around the globe. Entering the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in 1985 Independence underwent a modernization program intended to extend its service life for another fifteen years. Leaving the shipyard in 1989 the ship transited to the Pacific via Cape Horn, being too large for the Panama Canal to accommodate, and entered its new homeport of San Diego.
During the nineties, Independence operated in support of American interests in the Persian Gulf, enforcing the no-fly zone imposed on Iraq after the first Gulf War, cruised off Taiwan, changed homeports to Yokosuka, Japan, and deployed to Malaysia, the first aircraft carrier of any nation to make a port call there.
In September 1998, after 39 years and nine months of continuous service, Independence was decommissioned in Bremerton, Washington and placed in mothballs there. In 2004 it was stricken from the Naval Register and offered in donation as a museum ship. Parts were stripped from the hull for use in new carriers, including U.S.S. George H.W. Bush. In 2012, with no takers for a museum, the ship was scheduled to be scrapped.
U.S.S. Independence and Asbestos Exposure
Independence was built at the New York Naval Shipyards, also known as the Brooklyn Navy Yard, at a time when the use of asbestos as a thermal insulator was commonplace.
Pipe insulation, (lagging) was routinely manufactured from an asbestos cloth provided to the yard by subcontractors as well as manufactured on site.
Large boilers, responsible for generating the steam used to drive the ships turbines, were lined with asbestos, and many of the gaskets throughout the ship were manufactured from asbestos. Floor tiles and fire protective insulation on bulkheads also contained asbestos fibers.
The likelihood of asbestos exposure from deteriorating insulation, during chipping of paint, (a seemingly unending chore on all Navy ships) while working in engine rooms and power distribution rooms and during operations in the hangar bays below the flight deck would have been unavoidable, particularly prior to the ship’s modernization overhaul in 1985.