Auxiliary ships in the navy play a variety of specialty roles, such as transport, research, and repair. Like other navy ships, the auxiliary ships contained hundreds of materials and components made with asbestos. Many navy veterans became sick decades after serving on them.
About Auxiliary Ships and Asbestos
Like other Navy vessels built between the 1930s and 1970s, auxiliary ships played important roles but also put people at risk of asbestos exposure.
Auxiliary ships are named for the fact that they play multiple roles. Unlike other ships with very specific roles to play, these vessels were used for all kinds of jobs from medical care to rescue to research.
Early auxiliary ships were often heavily armed. However, after World War II, they became more specified for tasks not typically related to offensive or defensive measures. Modern auxiliary ships are armed just enough for self-defense.
While there are few auxiliary ships currently active in the U.S. Navy, there have been hundreds throughout history. Auxiliary ships ranged from small to large and performed duties like towing and tug, refueling, salvage and rescue, repairs, and more.
- Crane ships (AB)
- Colliers (AC)
- Ammunition ships (AE)
- Store ships and combat store ships (AF and AFS)
- Icebreakers (AGB)
- Environmental research ships (AGER)
- Major communication relay ships (AGMR)
- Survey ships (AGS)
- Hospital ships (AH)
- Cargo ships (AK)
- Vehicle cargo ships (AKR)
- Oilers – fuel oil tankers (AO)
- Transport ships (AP)
- High-speed transport ships (APD)
- Aircraft ferry (AKV)
- Net laying ships (AN)
- Repair ships (AR)
- Ocean tugs (ATO)
- Seaplane tenders (AV)
- Aircraft escort vessels (AVG)
- Distilling ships (AW)
- Unclassified ships (IX)
The History of Auxiliary Ships in the U.S. Navy
World War I
The U.S. Navy first acquired ships to build its auxiliary fleet for World War I. Many ships were privately owned, but the Navy acquired and commissioned these private vessels to build its fleet. Most were used during the war to transport men and supplies.
After the war, the Navy decommissioned the ships and began to build its own auxiliary fleet, consisting mostly of transport ships and repair ships. The Navy also seized German ships to convert and commission.
Auxiliary Ships in World War II
During and leading up to World War II, Naval shipbuilding accelerated. Auxiliary repair ships became especially important, so offensive ships could continue operating during the war.
The military also commissioned oilers to refuel vessels at sea during the war. The Navy also built barracks, ships, and store ships during this time.
The Korean and Vietnam Wars
During the Korean War, the auxiliary fleet expanded more slowly; however, the Navy continued to build and commission vessels to keep military forces supplied with weapons for the conflict.
These ammunition ships continued to be important during the Vietnam War. Transport ships were no longer necessary as in previous wars; instead, the Navy employed large aircraft for moving personnel.
Modern Auxiliary Ships
Today, the auxiliary force is smaller than in the past. In 2006, however, the Navy created a new category of auxiliary vessel: the dry cargo and ammunition ships, AKE. The first ship in this category was the USNS Lewis and Clark (AKE-1).
Other active auxiliary ships include barracks ships, unclassified ships, dry cargo ships, and vehicle cargo ships.
Most modern auxiliary ships used by the Navy are non-commissioned. Rather than carrying the title USS, they are USNS ships, which stands for United States Naval Ship. USNS ships are part of the Military Sealift Command, an organization that mans ships with civilians to supply Navy ships and conduct other special missions.
How Was Asbestos Used in Auxiliary Ships?
For a period of several decades, most ships in the U.S. Navy were made with asbestos. This occurred between the 1930s and 1970s and included auxiliary ships. Asbestos was widely used because it was cheap and abundant.
Asbestos was also effective for insulating, fireproofing, and strengthening materials while remaining flexible. This helped asbestos materials fit into awkward spaces on ships.
Hundreds of components on Navy ships contained asbestos, including:
- Pipe and other types of insulation
- Firefighting equipment and gear
- Fireproof materials
- Deck matting
Areas of highest asbestos use are those that generated the most heat: engine rooms, pump rooms, torpedo rooms, and boiler rooms.
Which Navy Auxiliary Ships Contained Asbestos?
Essentially every ship built during this time period used asbestos. Several specific Navy auxiliary ships had confirmed asbestos use. These include the following:
- USS Caliente, commissioned 1943
- USS Caloosahatchee, commissioned 1950
- USS Sangamon, commissioned 1942
- USS Carpellotti, commissioned 1959
- USS Delta, commissioned 1952
- USS Wyandot, commissioned 1944
- USS Hector, commissioned 1949
- USS Cabot, commissioned 1943
- USS Cowpens, commissioned 1943
- USS Franklin, commissioned 1943
- USS Monterey, commissioned 1943
- USS San Jacinto, commissioned 1943
- USS Myrmidon, commissioned 1945
- USS Arcadia, commissioned 1945
- USS General G.O. Squier, commissioned 1943
- USS Vulcan, commissioned 1941
- All AP designated ships built in the 1940s
Who Was at Risk of Exposure to Asbestos on Auxiliary Ships?
Workers and U.S. veterans who constructed, maintained, and repaired auxiliary ships were at the greatest risk of asbestos exposure. These workers regularly handled asbestos materials and products that went into the ships. They may have cut and fitted materials or manipulated them in other ways, releasing tiny asbestos fibers into the air.
Anyone could be exposed when asbestos materials were damaged by repairs, accidents, or normal wear and tear. A ship’s close quarters also provided poor ventilation, increasing the risks for asbestos exposure and inhalation.
Sailors at greater risk were those stationed in areas with less ventilation and more asbestos, as well as those who handled asbestos parts. This includes those working in boiler and engine rooms, pipefitters, ship fitters, electricians, and firefighters.
The longer someone served on these ships, the greater the risk of exposure. Exposure could have occurred before World War II through the Vietnam era.
How Did Asbestos on Navy Auxiliary Ships Harm Veterans?
Workers could then inhale those microscopic asbestos fibers, putting them at risk of developing mesothelioma or other illnesses, sometimes decades later.
When asbestos materials are disturbed—by maintenance and repair work, attacks, accidents, or neglect—they release fibers into the air. Those fibers, once inhaled, can cause damage to tissues and cells in the body, leading to scarring or cancer.
How Can Navy Veterans Get Benefits and Compensation?
If you or someone you love served on auxiliary ships in the U.S. Navy, you should be aware of the risks of developing mesothelioma or asbestosis. These illnesses often do not develop symptoms until decades after the exposure. The most important thing to do immediately is to get screened for asbestos illnesses.
Veterans with a diagnosis of mesothelioma or another asbestos disease can seek benefits and compensation through several avenues:
- VA Healthcare. The VA offers veterans harmed by active service free healthcare at facilities around the country. Those in Boston and Los Angeles have access to mesothelioma specialists.
- VA Disability Benefits. You can also make a claim with the VA for disability compensation. The VA gives mesothelioma a disability rating of 100%. Veterans with this type of cancer might be eligible for maximum monthly compensation.
- Lawsuits. Veterans cannot sue the military for asbestos exposure, but they can file lawsuits against companies that provided asbestos parts for Navy shipbuilding. Many of these cases end in settlements for veterans.
- Asbestos Trust Funds. Companies that went bankrupt over asbestos set up trust funds to compensate victims. If applicable, a veteran can file a claim for compensation with the appropriate trust.
You should receive screening for asbestos illnesses if you have been exposed. Then talk to a veterans’ advocate who can help you recover damages and compensation through the Veterans Administration. Talk to a mesothelioma lawyer about filing a lawsuit or making a trust fund claim.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
Page Written by Mary Ellen Ellis
Mary Ellen Ellis has been the head writer for Mesothelioma.net since 2016. With hundreds of mesothelioma and asbestos articles to her credit, she is one of the most experienced writers on these topics. Her degrees and background in science and education help her explain complicated medical topics for a wider audience. Mary Ellen takes pride in providing her readers with the critical information they need following a diagnosis of an asbestos-related illness.
Page Edited by Patient Advocate Dave Foster
Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.