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Asbestos Exposure for Merchant Seamen

This website provides all the testimony necessary to illustrate the ongoing importance of nautical commerce. The world’s energy generation and distribution networks would not function at all in many nations without these tankers and would be radically reduced in others. One of the occupational hazards for all professional sailors over the last fifty years has been the exposure to asbestos aboard the vessels on which they are working.  

Thousands of Navy veterans from the World War II era developed asbestosis or mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos while aboard ship.  Mesothelioma is a lethal form of cancer for which the only known cause is asbestos – specifically asbestos fibers that can be inhaled when they are given off by a deteriorating or damaged asbestos product.  Merchant seamen have experienced the same exposure from the same uses of asbestos products.

Every U.S. Navy ship commissioned from about 1930 to 1970 was fitted out with tons of asbestos materials used for insulation and for fire retardant purposes.  The same was true in the U.S. for merchant vessels.  Asbestos was used to insulate boilers, engine rooms, and ships’ interiors for the purpose of fire protection.  Asbestos is extremely resistant to fire.  In more recent years it has been sprayed on steel super-structures for purposes of fire protection.  Asbestos products were also used to insulate piping systems, as gaskets for pipes and pumps, and as seals for bearings in pumps and other motors.

All of this equipment was in use on the tankers and other commercial ships built sixty years ago as well as the ships being used today.  Vessels hauling compressed natural gas are loaded with insulation for the containers and the pipe systems.  Many of the tankers found on this website used steam turbine engines, which means there were boilers on board and a lot of heat control measures were necessary.  And oil refineries in general have been known to be high risk asbestos exposure work sites; undoubtedly that extended to the shipping stations attached to those refineries.

While ship construction in the U.S. no longer involves the use of asbestos products, that is not necessarily the case in other nations.  Bulk cargo vessels built in Japan or India or in other Asian nations may have used asbestos well into the 1980s and 1990s; some shipyards may still employ asbestos materials today.  That is why it is important for merchant seamen who work on these vessels to be aware of the dangers of asbestos products and to be aware of the symptoms of asbestos diseases.

It takes decades after asbestos exposure has occurred for asbestosis or mesothelioma to develop symptoms.  Men who shipped out on many of these carriers portrayed here that were scrapped long ago may just now be getting sick.  There are treatment options for mesothelioma and other asbestos diseases if they are diagnosed early enough.  If you feel that you may have developed an asbestos related disease based on the symptoms, you should consult your physician immediately and explain your concern.  The symptoms for mesothelioma and asbestosis are often misinterpreted as the conditions for pneumonia, heart disease, or some other more common condition.

Some pages which may be of interest are: