U.S.S. Leahy DLG 16/CG 16 (Guided Missile Cruiser)
One of the many ships built for the United States Navy by Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine, U.S.S. Leahy was the lead ship of a class of destroyer leaders, later re-designated cruisers, which served in the US Navy in the 1960s through the 1990s.
Leahy was the first United States Navy cruiser to be fitted with missile launchers fore and aft, omitting, for the first time, heavy guns. Thus by design Leahy would have no role in gunfire support missions and could only engage enemy vessels with its missiles, a departure from US Naval doctrine, which had stressed the ability to outshoot an enemy ship since its inception.
Entering service in 1962, Leahy spent the first fourteen years of its operational career in the Atlantic Fleet, operating in US coastal waters as well as with the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean. Eventually, the ship would complete six Mediterranean deployments, operating out of Charleston SC as its homeport, as well as conducting operations throughout the Caribbean and North Atlantic, interspersed with maintenance availabilities. Leahy also participated in midshipmen training cruises, UNITAS circumnavigations of the South American continent, and numerous NATO training evolutions.
In 1975 Leahy, in company with U.S.S. Tattnall, entered the port of Leningrad, the first US Naval ships to visit a Soviet port since the end of World War II. Over 12,000 visitors toured the ship, including Elizabeth Taylor, who was no doubt cordially welcomed by the crew.
Transferred to the Pacific in 1976, Leahy transited via the Panama Canal to assume its new duties in that theatre. Western Pacific cruises were soon part of the ship’s annual routine and in 1980 added the Persian Gulf to the list of areas in which the cruiser had operated. More cruises to the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf were added to the vessels resume throughout the decade.
In 1990 Leahy played host ship to the historic visit of Russian warship’s to San Diego, the first such visit by the Russian Navy to the American west coast, Leahy participated in operations off Somalia, supporting United Nations relief efforts, and in 1993 again operated in the Persian Gulf, its radars and missiles helping to enforce the no-fly zone imposed on Iraq.
In October 1993, Leahy was decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Register the same day. Laid up in Suisun Bay, and later in Beaumont TX, the ship was finally towed to the shipbreakers in Brownsville TX where its scrapping was reported as completed in 2005.
Asbestos Exposure on U.S.S. Leahy
In 1997, the Baltimore Sun published a series of articles describing the Navy’s shipbreaking program, including operations at the shipbreaker’s yard in Brownsville, TX. In it, the newspaper quoted workers describing pipes and boilers “shrouded in asbestos”.
When built, asbestos use on ships bound for the US Navy was commonplace. The number of materials which could have contained asbestos is in the hundreds. For decades, the use of asbestos as liners for ships’ boilers was mandated by Congress. Asbestos cloth lagged pipes throughout all Navy ships. Other materials manufactured from or containing asbestos included valves, brake parts, clutches and couplings, electrical panels, turbine components, deck tiles, and fireproofing.
When the asbestos deteriorated, an action accelerated by the harsh environment in an operating ship, it became friable, meaning it could easily release fibers into the atmosphere in the form of microscopic dust. This dust was easily dispensed throughout the ship by contact with clothing or by the ship’s ventilators. Asbestos was likely present in every compartment and space throughout the ship.