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U.S.S. Hepburn FF-1055 (Guided Missile Frigate)

U.S.S. Hepburn was a Knox class frigate, designed as an anti-submarine warfare (ASW) vessel and built by Todd Pacific Shipyards, San Pedro California, beginning in 1966. The ship was commissioned into the Navy in 1969.

Like the rest of the 46 ship Knox class, Hepburn was large for a destroyer/frigate, less maneuverable as a result of having a single screw, and relatively slow. These limitations, along with several others, including problematic boilers, led to the ships being referred to as “McNamara’s Folly” by the sailors who manned them and the press.

After shakedown and training operations along the US west coast, Hepburn deployed on the first of what would be many cruises to the western Pacific (WESTPAC) in 1970. WESTPAC cruises in the first half of the 1970s included service off Vietnam, providing gunfire support and screening operations for the aircraft carriers operating near the Gulf of Tonkin. Port visits in the Philippines and Japan, as well as visits to Australia, were included. Hepburn would conduct annual WESTPAC cruises throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, when forays into the Indian Ocean became common as well.

Alternating with these cruises, the ship would be refitted and conduct training exercises along the west coast of the United States.

ASW exercises included training operations with US Navy submarines and fleet units, as well as active operations tracking and targeting Soviet submarines.

By the late 1980s, the limitations of the Knox class and the decreasing need for surface ASW operations combined to render the Hepburn as too expensive to continue to operate. The decline of the Soviet submarine fleet at the end of the Cold War made the Hepburn obsolete. The ship was decommissioned in December 1991 and placed in reserve. In 1995 the ship was stricken from the naval register and options for disposing of the vessel were explored. The ship was sunk as a target in June 2002.

Asbestos Exposure on U.S.S. Hepburn

At the time of U.S.S. Hepburn’s construction, the use of asbestos in the building of ships was common, and the number of materials containing asbestos was in the hundreds. Ship’s boilers, of which Hepburn had two, were lined with asbestos insulation. Clutches, winches, deck plates and fire dampers were all manufactured with asbestos. Asbestos could be found in gaskets and seals, ventilation plenums, deck and overhead tiles, electrical panels and insulation, brakes and brake linings, glues and solvents, and fire resistant paints.

The single most common use of asbestos aboard ships, and present in virtually all spaces, was as insulation for pipes. Asbestos lagged pipes ran throughout the ship, through berthing and dining areas, machinery spaces and equipment rooms, fan rooms, and offices. Although the asbestos was contained by painting the insulation, areas which were hard to reach could easily deteriorate unseen, releasing friable asbestos into the air, allowing its distribution throughout the ship by ventilation and by contact with clothing. Maintenance on valves and piping, or on nearby equipment, could easily damage the painted surface, allowing asbestos to be released.

Pipe lagging was not removed unless other maintenance required it, meaning that Hepburn carried asbestos-containing insulation throughout its career, as has been verified in the scrapping of other vessels of its vintage.

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