Patrol boats are some of the smallest ships in the Navy, but they still contained asbestos. It was used in every patrol boat class.
Asbestos and Patrol Boats Explained
The U.S. Navy started using asbestos in its vessels in the 1930s. At the start of the Second World War, the production of Navy ships skyrocketed. The war effort required more ships and the Navy needed them fast. Each of these ships, including the Navy’s patrol boats, contained asbestos. Any patrol boats built before the 1980s contained asbestos.
Asbestos is a cheap, abundant mineral. It’s also fire resistant and a remarkable insulator. These facts made asbestos the obvious choice for the production of all Navy ships. Even ships as small as Navy patrol boats need excellent insulation to reduce the risk of onboard fire because elements like engines and guns generate a lot of heat in confined spaces.
Exposure to asbestos can lead mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. When asbestos becomes airborne, seaman can inhale the substance. It takes decades for mesothelioma to develop, so Navy veterans who served on patrol boats built before the 1980s are at risk. There is no safe amount of asbestos exposure, but those working in well-ventilated areas have a reduced risk of disease.
Some patrol boat vessels that were among the last built using asbestos:
- USS Pegasus (PHM-1)
- USS Grand Rapids (PGM-98)
- USS Tucumcari (PGH-2)
The list of United States patrol boats used since WWII is huge, there were hundreds of these vessels.
Two of the vessels listed above were part of a special hydrofoil class. Hydrofoil patrol boats had special foils on the hull of the ship that allowed for easier maneuvering.
History of Patrol Boats
Patrol boats are built for coastal defense and the transport of men and supplies. They are light and fast, capable of skimming coastlines and riverways. There are many different designs of patrol boats for different purposes. Some patrol boats were built to launch missiles while others were meant for troop transport. Overall, the duties of patrol boats are similar.
Hundreds of ships have been part of the Navy’s patrol boat class. There are currently just over a dozen patrol boats still in active duty.
The historical purpose of patrol boats was to pursue and capture pirates in Dutch coastal territories. The practicality of these type of ships are still recognized today. In fact, patrol boats still serve an anti-piracy role, as well as an anti-smuggling and rescue operation role.
Patrol boats are unique in their size and usually offensive combative role. The first large portion of patrol boats were produced in the WWI era. The largest proportion of patrol boats were used in WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
Major classes of Navy patrol boats include:
- Patrol craft
- Missile hydrofoil
- Gunboat hydrofoil
- Submarine chaser
- Motor gunboat
- River gunboat
- Rescue escort
- Patrol frigate
- Patrol yacht
- Torpedo boat
- Coastal yacht
Some of the most notable patrol boat classes of the 20th century are the Eagle-class patrol crafts, Patrol Craft Fast class and the Cyclone class.
Eagle-class patrol crafts
The first patrol boats mass produced for the United States Navy were the Eagle-class patrol boats of the early 20th century. These vessels were produced as a solution to German U-boats in WWI. Before the Eagle-class were built, the Navy used submarine chasers that weren’t fast or maneuverable enough. The Eagle-class patrol boats were almost 2 times faster and equipped with 50 caliber machine guns.
President Wilson called on Henry Ford to take up the task of building 100 new patrol boats. Ford used his famous assembly line for the first vessels, but the patrol boats required a more thorough assembly method. Eventually, the war came to a halt and 60 Eagle-class crafts were built. Many of these original vessels survived to be used in WWII.
Luckily, asbestos wasn’t widely used when the Eagle-class crafts were built, so exposure risks are lower than other Navy vessels built after the 1930s.
Patrol Craft Fast (PCF) class
The Vietnam War was fought differently than other wars. Marines and soldiers had to battle not only the enemy but also the jungle and other elements. Small boats were some of the best vehicles to deal with the Vietnamese landscape. The PCF class was perfect for speedily transporting crack troops via riverways. These vessels were also called Swift Boats.
Swift Boats were only 50 feet long and predominantly for transporting Navy SEALS. They were light, quiet and equipped for offense. This made them perfect for stealth missions too.
Swift Boats are one of the smallest classes of patrol boats used by the Navy, but the size of these ships do not mitigate the risk of asbestos exposure. Nearly 200 of these vessels were built during the Vietnam War. As these patrol boats were built at the height of asbestos use, PCF class vessels are likely to contain a lot of asbestos.
In the 1990s, the Navy built a new class of patrol boats. There are far fewer patrol boats in use compared to other points in history. These vessels were built after the risks of asbestos were made widely known. Cyclone class patrol boats present little to no risk of asbestos exposure. This is both because the Navy has limited the use of asbestos and takes precautionary measures to keep seaman safe.
Asbestos Exposure Risks
Seaman with the highest risk of asbestos exposure are usually those working on larger vessels like destroyers. Typically boilerman and pipefitters had the highest risk because they worked directly with asbestos-containing products like broken gaskets and valves.
Navy patrol boats are small with no berthing space, so most men worked on deck where there is plenty of ventilation. Usually, those in poorly ventilated spaces are those with the highest risk of inhaling airborne asbestos fibers. That being said, patrol boats built between the 1930s and 1970s certainly contained asbestos.
Places where you could find asbestos on patrol boats include:
- Deck covering material
Due to the location of asbestos on patrol boats, seaman responsible for actual repairs on these crafts had the highest risk of exposure.
Treatment and Benefits for Veterans
No branch of the military has more cases of mesothelioma than the Navy. The massive use of asbestos on every naval vessel up to the 1980s made it virtually impossible for seaman to not experience some kind of asbestos exposure. That’s why the VA offers 100% disability for veterans whose mesothelioma is connected to their military service. Those serving on patrol boats are some who may have faced this risk.
Key points to remember:
- Though small, many patrol boats still posed a real asbestos risk.
- Every veteran is eligible for different VA benefits.
- There are mesothelioma specialists part of the VA Healthcare System.
If you served in the Navy and have mesothelioma, there are people whose job it is to help you. It doesn’t matter if you served on a patrol boat or an aircraft carrier. Our VA-accredited representative can explain the benefits you’re eligible for as well as your treatment options. The VA has 2 of the best mesothelioma doctors in the country. Get help from our representative now.