U.S.S. San Diego AFS 6 (Combat Stores Ship)
Built by the National Steel and Shipbuilding Company in its namesake city, U.S.S. San Diego was commissioned in 1969. After initial shakedown and acceptance trials, San Diego transited to the Atlantic, providing supplies to the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean and home porting in Norfolk, Virginia.
Annual cruises to the Mediterranean, and sometimes two, were to be the ship’s modus operandi for the next twenty years, with stays in Norfolk and other ports for maintenance and upkeep. Tasked with supplying combat stores to deployed units, San Diego also conducted operations with ships deployed in the Caribbean.
Although away from home frequently for extended cruises, San Diego was able to make numerous port visits, often in ports not usually entered by warships, due to the nature of its mission. The need to procure and deliver fresh supplies meant the vessel would cruise between ports of call and the operating fleet. The ship usually operated underway independent of other fleet units, with the exception of when it was delivering supplies.
A typical cycle for San Diego would be a six month stay with the Sixth fleet as the on station supply ship, followed by maintenance and upkeep in Norfolk, followed by refresher training and testing of new equipment, and then back to the Mediterranean, where it would relieve the on station supply ship, which would then perform a similar cycle. Port visits in the Mediterranean were a welcome diversion from the routine.
Other diversions included San Diego rescuing the crew of a burning Greek freighter in 1971, and being the naval representative for Mardi Gras in New Orleans the same year.
A less welcome diversion, in 1989, was a collision with the US nuclear submarine USS Norfolk near the Virginia Capes at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay. Problems with the current and an overcorrection on the part of the submarine caused the vessels to run into each other, and although there were no injuries on either vessel San Diego was forced to enter dry dock for repairs.
In 1993, San Diego was decommissioned but remained in service, transferring to the Military Sealift Command and acquiring a mostly civilian crew. San Diego continued to operate under this status until 1997 when the ship was laid up in Philadelphia. In 2006 it was sold for scrap.
Asbestos Exposure on U.S.S. San Diego
National Steel and Shipbuilding, the builder of U.S.S. San Diego, used asbestos in a wide variety of materials during ship construction in the 1960s, some manufactured on site and others provided by sub-contractors. Materials on San Diego that contained asbestos included boiler liners, electrical panels and switches, bulkhead fire protection, deck tiles, overhead tiles, gaskets and seals, valve packing, brake linings and clutches for winches and capstans, valve insulation jackets, soundproofing materials and pipe insulation.
All pipes on naval vessels are insulated for thermal protection in the event of a fire. Called lagging, this insulation is manufactured from asbestos cloth, with which the pipe is wrapped. Asbestos-lined pipes ran the length and breadth of San Diego and were present in berthing and messing areas as well as in offices, storage and other spaces on the ship.
Piping was frequently run through hard to see and reach areas, for reasons of maximizing space for crew comfort or the location of equipment. Deteriorating paint which covered the lagging, or deterioration of the lagging itself, could frequently undetected, allowing asbestos fibers to be released into the air and carried throughout the ship by contact with clothing or skin, or by the ventilation system.