U.S.S. Illusive AM-448 (Auxiliary Ship, Minesweeper)
U.S.S. Illusive was a member of the 53-ship Aggressive class of minesweepers, designed to perform high-speed detection and removal of mines placed in deep water to deny passage of ships. Illusive was built in San Diego by the Martinolich Shipbuilding Company in the early 1950s and commissioned in late 1953.
Major modifications were performed following initial sea trials and the ship did not take part in fleet operations until 1955.
Illusive trained with the Pacific fleet, conducting minesweeping exercises along the California coast and Hawaiian waters. Illusive would operate in Japanese and Philippine waters by the end of the 1950s. A major part of the ship’s mission was conducting training for foreign navies, including those of Japan and South Vietnam throughout this period and into the early 1960s.
Duties performed during the Vietnamese Conflict included the interception and destruction of cargo being transported along the coastline to resupply Vietcong units operating in South Vietnam. Many of these vessels were sailing junks and small boats. Illusive also performed resupply duties for the Swift boats operated by the US Navy, tasked with a similar mission in the littoral waters and rivers.
In the mid-1970s, many of the minesweepers, including Illusive, underwent major modifications, including the replacement of the ship’s diesel engines and additional armament. Mine removal diver teams were added to the ship’s complement.
Transferred to the Atlantic, Illusive operated with the US and NATO fleets in operations for training in the North Atlantic, Caribbean, and the Mediterranean from the late 1970s until the next decade, with Charleston, South Carolina serving as its home port.
In the late 1980s, Illusive conducted operations in the Persian Gulf, escorting tankers that had been reflagged for protection and to ensure safe passage through the Gulf during the Iran-Iraq War. Illusive operated with ships of NATO allies, which together cleared hundreds of mines which had been placed, largely by the Iranians in an attempt to close the Gulf to shipping.
Decommissioned in 1990, Illusive was sold for scrap in 1993.
Asbestos Exposure on U.S.S. Illusive
U.S.S. Illusive was scrapped by Seawitch Salvage, which dismantled the vessel at its facility near Baltimore. Workers there removed asbestos-laden insulation from the vessel, often stripping it with bare hands.
Asbestos was reported in several materials on board Illusive, primarily in pipe and electrical insulation, but also in exhaust systems for the ship’s diesel engines, clutches, winches and brakes, and deck tiles.
Experience with Illusive helped document the extensive use of asbestos in ship construction and its continuing presence onboard as late as 1990. The amount of asbestos present in Illusive, combined with the ships operational duties and age, would have ensured potential long-term exposure to asbestos fibers for anyone serving on the minesweeper.
The asbestos used for insulation of pipes, in particular, was present throughout the vessel and was often in hard to reach or see areas. Deterioration in such areas could have gone undetected for extended periods of time. Asbestos released into the air would have been freely distributed throughout the ship by contact with clothing or by the ship’s ventilation system.