U.S.S. Salamonie (AO-26)
The USS Salamonie AO-26 was named after the Salamonie River, in Indiana. The Salamonie went on to be well-decorated, as she and her crew won two battle stars in World War II. The vessel would literally traverse every major waterway, from Bahrain to Britain, and span the growth of American world influence after World War II. Asbestos was a common ingredient in building these volatile oil replenishment vessels…decades later, medical evidence showed the risks of their construction.
There were interesting contradictions when it came to the history of the USS Salamonie. She had been built at one of the Navy’s most trusted contractor yards, Newport News & Shipbuilding. The speed of the Salamonie’s construction (approximately seven months) was notable. Many shipbuilders increased their need for asbestos since it was easy to work with as a fire retardant and cheap. Yet despite any cost-cutting, the Salamonie, the product of an oil company design, kept on successfully sailing for the Navy into the 1960s, despite the potential long-term risks of using asbestos.
Massive overhauls were also to be very common, as oil supply vessels of the Cimarron-class aged. These overhauls often exposed old asbestos. Asbestos was a common method for protecting equipment from heat, or even as insulation against harsh marine conditions. Years later, medical experts showed there should have been more concern about asbestos risks during the lifespan of these vessels.
Repairs and Upgrades
The adaptability and speed of the USS Salamonie showed in her size (553 feet in length), while still able to do 18 knots. The vessel could carry anywhere from a light load of 7,590 to as much as 25,228 tons (full). This power to haul fuel was one reason the vessel was so vital, well into the late 1960s. An example of upgrades to the Salamonie was in 1942 when an overhaul at Norfolk also added radar to the ship. This valuable equipment also very often had asbestos, used to protect its components. Unaware of the risks of asbestos, it was not uncommon for crew members to be mere inches away from asbestos during much of their workday.
The USS Salamonie’s importance to growing US world influence after WWII was also reflected in her upgrades: repairs often meant replacing asbestos in bulkheads or in engine equipment in similar oil replenishers. Salamonie was simply too valuable as a versatile replenishment oiler to let lay idle in the Cold War. Supply missions and sorties against Japanese shipping and strongholds lasted through almost all of 1943. The Salamonie took a series of hits and near misses from Japanese attacks, and in 1944 one crew member was killed when a Zero strafed the ship. Desperate repairs forced the fighting Salamonie back to the American mainland in late 1945. The Salamonie had a complete overhaul at the Long Beach Naval Yards through much of 1946.
Asbestos Risks On the USS Salamonie (AO-26)
Aging battleships such as the USS Salamonie played a vital role in Pacific strategy after WWII. The flexibility and experience of the Salamonie aided in task force attacks on Japanese strongholds, while she was also delivering desperately-needed material to US Allies. But due to the great risks of fire on aging replenishment oilers such as the Salamonie, literally tons of asbestos were also used. Decks, bulkheads…perhaps miles of wiring in such a vessel were commonly asbestos-coated.
In 1958, Salamonie helped analyze high-level nuclear tests. But what to do with an aging vessel such as the Salamonie was also a problem. Scrapping war vessels, it was later shown, meant many of the workers, from crew to civilians, may have been exposed to asbestos and asbestos fibers. After leaving the Mediterranean for a last mission, the USS Salamonie was sent to the James River, Virginia, for mothballing. There, after having her equipment stripped, her hulk was sold to a Dutch scrapping company in 1970.