Asbestos on Merchant Marine Ships

From the 1930s to the early 1980s, thousands of merchant marine ships contained asbestos-based products. This put veterans and civilians who served on these vessels at risk of cancers like mesothelioma. We can help those harmed by asbestos on merchant marine ships pursue military benefits, health care, and compensation.

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Was Asbestos Used on Merchant Marine Ships?

merchant marine ship on the water

Yes. Between the 1930s and early 1980s, almost all United States merchant marine ships used asbestos to keep them fireproof and insulated.

U.S. merchant marine ships carried cargo to and from ports and were notably part of the Navy’s auxiliary fleet in World War II.

However, due to the widespread asbestos use on these vessels, many service members and civilians who served decades ago are at risk of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases today.

Help may be available for merchant mariners harmed by asbestos. Veterans with mesothelioma who served aboard merchant marine ships can pursue benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), like monthly payments and medical care.

Further, mesothelioma veterans may qualify for legal compensation from the makers of asbestos-based products.

File a VA claim and pursue other benefits with help from our VA-accredited attorneys right now.

Need help filing for VA benefits?

VA-Accredited Attorney Eric Hall (Major USAFR) can help you file for free.

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  • Get or increase your VA payouts
  • Access benefits with no stress

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List of Merchant Marine Ships With Asbestos

Nearly all merchant marine vessels and every other U.S. Navy ship built before the early 1980s contained asbestos.

This is because asbestos products were commonly used in shipbuilding before the risks were known.

There were 6,236 merchant marine vessels in use at the end of World War II alone, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command.

Some merchant marine ships that contained asbestos included:

  • S.S. Alcoa Cavalier
  • S.S. Bay State
  • S.S. Berkeley Victory
  • S.S. Blue Grass State
  • S.S. Borinquen
  • S.S. Buckeye State
  • S.S. Burco Trader
  • S.S. C.H.M. Jones
  • S.S. Cilco Logger
  • S.S. Del Mar
  • S.S. E.J. Block
  • S.S. Elizabeth W. Moran
  • S.S. Empire State
  • S.S. Evergreen State
  • S.S. Excalibur
  • S.S. Gopher State
  • S.S. Keystone State
  • S.S. Little Butte
  • S.S. Mobilube
  • S.S. Mormacdove
  • S.S. Mormacsea
  • S.S. Morris Hillquit
  • S.S. Oriente
  • S.S. Pacific Victory
  • S.S. Pan Massachusetts
  • S.S. Pine Tree State
  • S.S. President Cleveland
  • S.S. Robin Gray
  • S.S. Samuel Chase
  • S.S. Sheldon Clark
  • S.S. Simon Benson
  • S.S. Socony 10
  • S.S. Spencer Kellogg
  • S.S. Steel Traveler
  • S.S. Stonewall Jackson
  • S.S. Thomas H. Barry
  • S.S. Thomas Lynch
  • S.S. Thomas Nelson
  • S.S. Tydol Bayonne
  • S.S. Uruguay
  • S.S. William Hooper
  • S.S. William J. Bryan
  • S.S. William Mulholland
  • S.S. Wilson B. Keene
Have You Served Aboard Any of These Merchant Marine Ships?File a Claim Now

There were many more merchant marine vessels besides the ones listed above that contained asbestos.

Contact our team right now to find out if a ship you served on put you at risk of developing mesothelioma.

Who Was at Risk of Asbestos on Merchant Marine Ships?

Anyone who served on a merchant marine ship that contained asbestos-based products could have been exposed.

Merchant vessels were typically cramped and poorly ventilated, so if asbestos-containing products were disturbed or damaged, tiny fibers could linger in the air for hours.

Did you know?

Breathing in or swallowing asbestos fibers has led to many cases of lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma in merchant mariners. These health problems develop 10-50 years after exposure.

That said, some mariners were at a greater risk of exposure than others if they worked with or around asbestos products as part of their duties.

Those at risk of exposure to asbestos on merchant marine ships included:

  • Boilermakers
  • Engineers
  • Firemen
  • Pipefitters
Mesothelioma Risks in U.S. Navy Veterans Video Thumbnail

Video Summary: U.S. Navy veterans are at a high risk of mesothelioma due to the use of asbestos on Navy ships. The Mesothelioma Veterans Center can help affected veterans and families pursue benefits, medical care, and financial aid if eligible.

Military members who served between the 1930s and 1980s were very likely exposed to asbestos, particularly in the Navy, because asbestos was used throughout the ships to insulate pipes and insulate their boiler systems.

And being that you were a sailor on a ship, you would've likely been on ship for months at any given time. And that's why we see the highest rate of mesothelioma cases in Navy veterans.

Veterans diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases are entitled to several different types of benefits from the VA, to include disability benefits, [and] health care benefits. There are even survivor benefits for those with asbestos-related diseases.

If a veteran believes they were exposed to asbestos while serving in the military, we encourage them to call the Mesothelioma Veterans Center so that we can work together to help them file for VA benefits.

Most of those serving on merchant marine vessels were civilians. However, U.S. Navy veterans were also at risk of asbestos exposure if they were stationed on merchant marine ships, which was common during World War II.

Asbestos on Merchant Marine Ships and Risks for Shipyard Workers

Anyone working on merchant marine vessels in shipyards was at a very high risk of exposure to asbestos.

Shipyard workers had to build, repair, or dismantle ships and the components aboard them. As part of this work, they may have installed and removed asbestos-containing materials, sending asbestos fibers and dust flying.

We can help merchant marine veterans who have mesothelioma. Call (877) 450-8973 now to learn if you qualify for VA benefits and compensation.

Where Was Asbestos on Merchant Marine Ships?

Asbestos products could be found throughout merchant marine ships — particularly in areas that needed to withstand high heat.

Areas that commonly used asbestos on merchant marine ships included:

  • Boiler rooms
  • Bulkheads
  • Engine rooms
  • Pipe systems

Diagram showing where asbestos was used on merchant marine ships

Many of these areas relied on asbestos insulation, pipe, and gaskets, which allowed boilers and other components to work properly under high heat and pressure.

At the time, merchant mariners had no idea that these asbestos products could cause them to get sick later in life.


“I was a boiler tender when I went aboard my first ship and started doing my first job. I asked them what the material was made out of on the boilers, and they told me asbestos. It didn’t kill anybody on the spot, that’s for sure. It took years later — that’s when it started catching up with us.”

Walter TwidwellWalter Twidwell
U.S. Navy Boiler Tender
Mesothelioma Patient

Other asbestos-containing materials like ceiling and floor tiles, wires, deck coverings, and paint were also found in many different areas of merchant marine ships, which put everyone aboard at risk of exposure.

Compensation for Veterans Harmed by Asbestos on Merchant Marine Ships

Those who developed mesothelioma from asbestos on merchant marine ships may be able to pursue legal compensation and VA benefits. These resources can help mariners with mesothelioma afford cancer treatments and other expenses.

Find out more about your financial compensation options after a mesothelioma diagnosis below.

VA Benefits

If you’re a veteran with mesothelioma, you can apply for compensation and medical care through VA benefits.

Key mesothelioma VA benefits include:

  • Disability compensation worth $3,946.25 per month in many cases
  • Health care services, including free or low-cost treatment from top mesothelioma doctors at VA medical centers
  • Survivor benefits to help your family if you pass away

The Mesothelioma Veterans Center can help you file for VA benefits right now.

Need help filing for VA benefits?

VA-Accredited Attorney Eric Hall (Major USAFR) can help you file for free.

  • 20+ years of experience
  • Get or increase your VA payouts
  • Access benefits with no stress

Eic Hall VA accredited attorney

File for VA Benefits

Asbestos Trust Funds

Many asbestos manufacturers declared bankruptcy and set up trust funds to pay mesothelioma patients but avoid lawsuits. Today, these asbestos trust funds contain more than $30 billion total.

You or a veteran you love may be able to file trust fund claims to get some of this compensation by working with our partner law firm.

Many past clients have qualified to get money from multiple trusts, with the first payouts often being secured in as little as 90 days.

Mesothelioma Lawsuits

If you or a loved one served aboard a merchant marine ship and now have mesothelioma, you may qualify to file an asbestos lawsuit. Mesothelioma lawsuits typically award $1 million or more — changing your family’s life for the better.

These lawsuits are never filed against the military or government. Instead, they’re filed with manufacturers of asbestos-containing products that hid the risks for decades.

By working with a mesothelioma lawyer, you may be able to file VA benefits claims, lawsuits, and trust fund claims simultaneously.

Learn about all the financial resources available after a mesothelioma diagnosis with a Free Veterans Packet.

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Help for Mesothelioma Veterans Exposed to Asbestos on Merchant Marine Ships

Though merchant marines didn’t serve in the U.S. military, their brave service during times of war will never be forgotten.

Yet some mariners must fight entirely preventable cases of mesothelioma decades after serving on merchant marine ships due to corporate greed.

Companies knew the risks of their products in the 1930s, but they hid the dangers of asbestos from mariners and U.S. service members to make money.

The Mesothelioma Veterans Center will help veterans and civilians fighting mesothelioma in any way we can.

Work with our team to see if you can access:

  1. Cancer doctors and hospitals near you
  2. Medical and financial VA benefits
  3. Legal compensation from asbestos companies
  4. A sense of justice for the harm done

Learn more about how we can help you after exposure to asbestos on merchant marine ships with a Free Veterans Packet.

Asbestos on Merchant Marine Ships FAQs

Where is asbestos found on ships?

Asbestos-containing products were used all over merchant marine ships and other Navy vessels.

The boiler rooms and engine rooms specifically relied on asbestos components to help withstand high temperatures.

If asbestos-containing products were damaged or disturbed, fibers could be released into the air. This is what leads to cases of mesothelioma in merchant mariners 10-50 years later.

Can you get VA disability for asbestos exposure?

Yes, you may qualify for VA disability compensation if you are a U.S. veteran suffering from an asbestos-related illness after serving on a merchant marine ship.

The VA considers mesothelioma to be a 100% disability and awards $3,946.25 a month to most married veterans with this cancer.

The Mesothelioma Veterans Center can help you file for VA benefits or increase your disability rating to 100% after a diagnosis. Work with us to access your VA benefits now.

What is the use of asbestos in ships?

Asbestos on merchant marine ships was used in a variety of ways. Asbestos-containing products helped keep ships fireproof and well-insulated.

These benefits did not outweigh the dangers that asbestos poses, as exposure can lead to mesothelioma and other cancers decades later.

However, asbestos product makers hid the risks for decades, as they wanted to keep their profit margins high.

Which merchant marine ships had asbestos?

Thousands of merchant marine vessels had asbestos-containing materials aboard, including the S.S. Burco Trader, S.S. Del Mar, S.S. Empire State, and S.S. Keystone State.

Our team can determine if you were exposed to asbestos on merchant marine ships. Call (877) 450-8973 now to get started.

Do merchant marine ships still have asbestos?

It’s unlikely that any merchant marine ships still in use contain asbestos. Most older vessels built with asbestos were either renovated or destroyed.

That said, if a ship you served on was made before the early 1980s, we can help determine if asbestos-based products were on board.

Veterans Support Team
Christopher Dryfoos PhotoWritten by:

Contributing Author

Christopher Dryfoos is a journalist and member of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). As the grandson of the U.S. Navy’s first forensic pathologist, he aims to help veterans with mesothelioma access needed care.

  1. Geroux, W. (2016, May 27). The Merchant Marine Were the Unsung Heroes of World War II. Retrieved March 11, 2024, from
  2. Naval History and Heritage Command. (2022, June 1). Naval Armed Guard Service in World War II. Retrieved March 11, 2024, from
  3. U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration. (2022, August 4). United States Merchant Marine Research Guide. Retrieved March 11, 2024, from