U.S.S. Phoebe MSC-199 (Minesweeper)
Designed and built for the mission of clearing mines from coastal waters, U.S.S. Phoebe was commissioned into to United States Navy in 1955. Built by the Harbor Boat Company in California, Phoebe would spend its career operating with the Pacific fleet.
As with submarines and other smaller ships, minesweepers are often less regimented than their larger counterparts. Crews are smaller and camaraderie is high, due the necessity of knowing everyone onboard and the close working conditions which are prevalent. Minesweepers of the day were often commanded by a young junior officer, usually a lieutenant.
After completing its own initial shakedown and training, Phoebe served as a school ship for the prospective crews of its fellow Bluebird class minesweepers Widgeon and Whippoorwill.
In early 1956 Phoebe departed the west coast of the United States and cruised to Japan, where it took up its duties as flagship of Mine Division 31, homeported in Sasebo, Japan. Much of its service there was marked by training other navies in mine warfare operations, including the Japanese Maritime Defense Force, the Philippine Navy, and the South Korean Navy. Phoebe also operated with the naval forces of Nationalist China.
In 1965 Phoebe participated in Operation Market Time for the first of what would be four periods conducting the mission of interdicting resupply of Vietcong units by sea. Ships involved in Market Time stopped and either destroyed or confiscated the cargoes of barges, canoes, and junks carrying such contraband. Phoebe would return to these duties in 1967, 1968, and 1969. During the latter mission, Phoebe boarded over two hundred junks in the coastal waters of Vietnam.
Originally Phoebe was equipped with V-16 diesel engines manufactured by the Packard Corporation.
In 1970, Phoebe shifted homeports to Long Beach, California. Tentative plans were for the minesweeper to serve as a training ship, those duties were assumed by U.S.S. Whippoorwill and Phoebe was deemed redundant. In 1976 the ship was sold for scrap.
Asbestos Exposure on U.S.S. Phoebe
Harbor Boat Building Company of Terminal Island, California built small craft for the US Navy over a period of several decades, including U.S.S. Phoebe. Known as both a manufacturer and user of asbestos materials, Harbor Boat Building used asbestos in over two hundred known items in the construction of boats and ships.
Asbestos was likely to be found on U.S.S. Phoebe in a wide variety of materials, including clutches and brake linings for the ship’s winches and capstans, exhaust plenums for its diesel engines, and in deck tiles, fire retardants, bulkhead panels, gaskets and seals, valve packing and insulation jackets, and pipe insulation. Electrical panels and switches, as well as electrical wiring insulation, were manufactured from asbestos as well.
Although the dangers of asbestos were known at the time of its construction, and knowledge of the hazards related to asbestos exposure grew during the time Phoebe served on active duty, serious asbestos abatement and education efforts did not begin until after Phoebe was decommissioned. Asbestos exposure on Phoebe was unavoidable during the time the ship, and its crew served.