U.S.S. Mercer (APB 39)
U.S.S. Mercer is a Benewah class barracks ship built in 1944 by the venerable Boston Navy Yard and commissioned into the Navy in September 1945. Throughout its long service Mercer has been reclassified several times and as of July 2012 remains in service as APL 39, (non-self-propelled barracks ship) in Sasebo, Japan.
Mercer’s career began in New York, followed by terms of duty in Orange, Texas, and Florida, where the ship was decommissioned in1947. Re-commissioned and upgraded in 1951, the ship was sent to Naples, Italy, serving as a receiving ship until mid-summer 1952. Returning to New York for overhaul the ship then served as a barracks ship for Seabee battalions, deploying three times to Argentia, Newfoundland with its Seabees, with a brief diversion to other duties in Washington DC.
In 1956 Mercer returned to inactivation in Florida, where the ship remained for the next eleven years.
In 1968 Mercer was again reactivated and commissioned into service, joining the Pacific Fleet at San Diego, bound for duty in Vietnam. Mercer provided berthing and dining services for mobile naval units fighting in Vietnam. In August 1969 Mercer left Vietnam and was again decommissioned, this time reclassified as a miscellaneous auxiliary messing and berthing barge. It was placed into service at the United States Naval Ship Repair Facility, Sasebo Japan in 1975.
The 1980s found the vessel designated IX 502, serving as a berthing barge at Naval Station San Diego, providing berthing, mess and classroom facilities for the crews of ships undergoing an overhaul in the yard. In the early 1990s, the vessel was towed to Long Beach, performing the same services for the shipyard there, until that yard closed as part of the BRAC activities in 1997.
Mercer was reclassified yet again, to its current designation of APL 39, in 2001. It is today stationed at the Ship Repair Facility Detachment, Sasebo, Japan as a berthing and messing facility.
Mercer earned four campaign stars for its Vietnam service.
Asbestos Exposure on U.S.S. Mercer
Built during the drive to construct ships as quickly as possible, Mercer contained asbestos in a variety of materials, in virtually all spaces where thermal protection of piping was necessary, in the engine rooms, and in its fireproofing of decks and bulkheads. Asbestos was used at the Boston Navy Yard in materials such as tiles, deck insulation, gaskets, turbines, boiler liners and packing, electrical insulation and in fire retardant paints and cements. Virtually all of these items were used throughout Mercer.
It is difficult, if not impossible to discover when throughout the long use of Mercer such materials were removed. In its current configuration as a non-self-propelled barge, Mercer does not have engines installed, though heating and ventilation requirements still dictate the need for some sort of power plant. Certainly, little asbestos abatement was performed on Mercer, as on other Navy ships, prior to the late nineteen-seventies.