U.S.S. Duluth LPD-6
The beginnings of the U.S.S. Duluth, when its keel was laid in 1963, marked some big changes in how US Navy ships were being built. Yet, safety from exposure to asbestos-related products was still not being adequately addressed in the 1960s, as the United States entered an important phase of needing more amphibious transport dock vessels such as the Duluth LPD-6.
The Duluth would go on to make its own history, but at the time it was launched, it was also fated to be the very last ship launched from the Brooklyn Naval Yard in 1965. Duluth quickly became a Navy workhorse with the 7th Fleet, as part of that Fleet’s Amphibious Ready Group. The vessel was built to become an important refueling platform and ready ship, especially for helicopters.
The Brooklyn Naval Yard was not unusual in its ship construction practices, and in building the Austin-class ship, typically relied heavily on asbestos throughout a ship. By the turn of this century, however, at least 500 cases against that Brooklyn shipyard helped show the dangers and risks of asbestos exposure (such as mesothelioma or other asbestos-related illnesses) to the people who made, and then crewed, hundreds of Naval vessels.1
Repairs and Upgrades
In the Spring of 1971, Duluth became an important part of the planning to stop a North Vietnamese offensive. While landing hundreds of marines, the Duluth was attacked by a Communist shore battery. Following that duty, Duluth went to San Diego, as part of the Pacific Fleet, and later saw duty in Taiwan and Honolulu. In 1975, Duluth made history again with its return to South Viet Nam. Duluth, as with the closing of the Naval Shipyard, was there for an important ending of US involvement in Viet Nam. Duluth took more than 900 evacuees from Saigon as America evacuated South Viet Nam.
After Viet Nam, Duluth began to take on increased work as a training ship, but also saw important duties in many important American efforts. Duluth assisted in evacuating the US Ambassador from Lebanon’s civil war in 1983. In 1987, the ship’s crew shared in her Citation for helping prevent a coup against the democratically-elected Philippine government.
The importance of these vital training exercises and heavy transport duties in Asian waters also meant that much of the insulation in the Duluth was frequently exposed and hurriedly replaced. Experts have pointed out that many cases of mesothelioma can be traced back to these upgrades in ships…precisely the kind of Naval ships being built during the time of the Duluth.
Asbestos Risks On the U.S.S. Duluth (LPD-6)
Nicknamed the “Dirty D,” the Duluth shared many of the asbestos dangers (especially in her insulation) of her sister ships and reconstruction techniques of the time. Ironically, Duluth would eventually help with decontamination of Prince William Sound, following the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1994. Nine years later, Duluth was damaged in the Arabian Gulf, and the vessel was soon afterward stricken for Navy salvage.
Unlike in the decades before, asbestos removal on the Duluth is now undertaken under more strict guidelines and full disclosure to work crews. Compensation for victims of mesothelioma exposure has become an important way to assess not only when, but what dangerous exposures occurred on Navy cruisers such as the Duluth.