U.S.S. Sterrett CG-31 (Guided Missile Cruiser)
The third U.S.S. Sterrett was built by the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and placed in commission in 1967. Originally designated as a destroyer leader, Sterrett would be reclassified as a guided missile cruiser in 1975, part of the general reclassification of all navy destroyers and frigates at that time.
Upon completion of initial shakedown and training, Sterrett headed to the Gulf of Tonkin for service in Vietnam. Using its radars to exercise positive control of naval and air force aircraft, the cruiser vectored US fighter planes to engage airborne North Vietnamese planes. Other duties included the rescue of downed pilots at sea and the support of other surface units in the area.
During this and subsequent deployments to Vietnam, Sterrett would earn nine battle stars.
During the second half of the 1970s, Sterrett conducted routine western Pacific (WESTPAC) cruises and made several port visits to upgrade its weapons systems. In 1978 the ship was dispatched to the Gulf of Oman via the Indian Ocean to monitor events in Iran, which led to the toppling of the Shah’s regime.
In early 1983, Sterrett was sent to the northern Pacific to assist in the search for the wreckage of the Korean airliner that had been shot down by Soviet fighters. During that time of heightened tension and close proximity of two fleets hostile to each other, Sterrett served as the flagship for the US search and rescue/salvage effort.
Sterrett returned to the northern Pacific in the late 1980s, ordered to conduct surveillance on the newest Soviet aircraft carrier as that ship departed Vladivostok on its initial deployment. In 1986 Sterrett departed its homeport of Subic Bay to stand by in Manila Harbor, ready to evacuate President Marcos and his family if necessary during the revolution there.
Further cruises in the Pacific and Indian Oceans followed, with the usual interruptions for maintenance and upkeep. In 1991 Sterrett underwent a major overhaul, receiving the New Threat Upgrade package. It was not to use its new capabilities for long. In 1994, in part due to the decreasing naval threats as a result of the end of the cold war, Sterrett was decommissioned and placed in storage in Suisun Bay. The ship was designated for scrapping in 2005.
Asbestos Exposure on U.S.S. Sterrett
Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, the builder of U.S.S. Sterrett, used asbestos in hundreds of components destined for the ships they built for the US Navy, including Sterrett. Boilers, used to produce the steam necessary to drive the ship’s turbines, were lined with asbestos as a protection against heat damage to the boiler causing it to explode. Numerous other components common to all ships were manufactured from asbestos, prized for its durability and resistance to fire. Some of these components included clutch linings, brake linings, deck tiles, electrical panels and switches, electrical insulation, valve packing, cements and epoxies, fire dampers, valve insulation jackets and pipe insulation.
Because of the propensity to insulate pipes with asbestos lagging, asbestos was present in virtually every compartment and space on Sterrett. Any deterioration to the paint covering the insulation, or damage to the insulation itself, would allow asbestos fibers to be released into the atmosphere, where it could be dispersed about the ship in a variety of ways including contact with sailors’ clothing or via the ship’s ventilation system.