U.S.S. Bonefish SS 582 (Diesel-Electric Submarine)
One of the last conventionally powered submarines built for the US Navy, USS Bonefish was a Barbel class diesel-electric attack submarine. Construction on the vessel began in 1957 at the New York Shipbuilding Company’s yard in Camden, New Jersey and the ship was commissioned in 1959.
After acceptance trials and shakedown Bonefish transited to the Pacific for operations there. The submarine conducted cruises to the western Pacific and made Pearl Harbor its home port, receiving its first scheduled overhaul there in 1964.
Bonefish would remain in the Pacific until 1982. During that time the duties of the conventionally powered submarine slowly changed, as more and more nuclear powered vessels entered the fleet. In the late sixties, Bonefish operated as an attack submarine, detecting and tracking submarines and surface ships of other navies while striving to remain undetected itself. As the 1970s evolved, Bonefish found itself working more frequently as a training vessel, simulating Soviet and Chinese diesel submarines while working with its fasted and more durable cousins, the US nuclear attack submarines.
In 1979, this evolving role was reflected in the submarine taking part in that year’s UNITAS operation, circumnavigating the continent of South America in concert with ships of several nations.
In 1982, Bonefish shifted homeports to Charleston, South Carolina. After an extensive overhaul, lasting fourteen months, Bonefish assumed its duties operating in the western Atlantic and Caribbean areas, assisting anti-submarine warfare training for air, surface and submarine units of the US and friendly navies.
Bonefish was on one such mission in 1988, exercising with a guided missile frigate, USS Carr, when a fire broke out in the submarine’s battery spaces. Heat from the fire was intense enough to melt shoe soles on the deck above. Initial attempts to contain the fire, which caused temperatures in the battery well to reach 1200 degrees, were of no avail. The submarine surfaced and the crew was ordered to abandon ship. Carr and USS John F. Kennedy dispatched assistance to the stricken submarine.
Three crew members died when they failed to open the bridge hatch, being overcome by smoke. The remainder of the crew escaped with minor injuries to a relative few. Bonefish was towed into Charleston by the salvage ship USS Hoist where the damages to the ship were evaluated. The decision was made to avoid the costs of repair and scrap the submarine. Bonefish was struck from the naval register and sold for scrap in August 1989.
Asbestos Exposure on USS Bonefish
A wide variety of asbestos containing materials were used in the construction of USS Bonefish and remained on the submarine throughout its service life. Asbestos was used in brake linings and clutches, deck tiles, gaskets and sealants, and as fireproofing for decks and bulkheads. Soundproofing materials, prevalent on a submarine due to its inherent need for stealth, contained asbestos. Insulation jackets and packing for valves were manufactured from asbestos cloth and other materials. Exhaust plenums for the diesel engine were made from asbestos sheets, as were some ventilation dampers.
Insulation for pipes was made from asbestos cloth. Pipes throughout the submarine were lagged with this cloth, which were then painted. In hard to reach areas, or in areas where the lagging could be damaged due to maintenance on other equipment, a frequent occurrence in the close quarters of a submarine, asbestos fibers could be released into the air and distributed freely throughout the vessel. Asbestos exposure in the confined environment of a submarine would be nearly impossible to avoid given the amount of material built into the fabric of the ship.