Asbestos on Merchant Marine Ships

Quick Summary

Many products used on merchant marine ships were made from asbestos, including insulation, piping, and wiring. With this in mind, it was almost impossible to avoid asbestos on these vessels. Asbestos exposure can cause mesothelioma later in life, but those affected may qualify for benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and private forms of compensation.

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Mesothelioma and Merchant Marine Ships Explained

merchant marine ship on the water

United States merchant marine ships are civilian vessels used to carry cargo to and from ports during peacetime. They were also used by the U.S. Navy in wartime to transport supplies and troops for the military.

Unfortunately, many who served aboard merchant marine ships were exposed to asbestos. Mesothelioma in merchant mariners is all too common now as a result.

Did you know?

Between the 1930s and 1980s, almost every U.S. merchant marine ship used asbestos-containing materials to keep them fireproof and insulated.

Thankfully, veterans with mesothelioma that served aboard merchant marine ships can pursue benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). These benefits include monthly payouts and medical care.

Further, both veterans and civilians may qualify for compensation from the makers of asbestos-based products. File a VA claim and pursue private benefits with help from fellow U.S. veterans and caring patient advocates 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

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Who Was at Risk of Asbestos Exposure on Merchant Marine Ships?

All merchant marine vessels had an array of personnel who were responsible for different jobs aboard. Unfortunately, many of those jobs forced mariners to handle asbestos-based products.

Jobs with a high risk of asbestos exposure 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.

If these workers damaged, disturbed, or otherwise handled asbestos-based products, fibers could be released into the air.

Back then, asbestos on merchant marine ships was not thought to be dangerous, and workers did not use personal respiratory protective gear. Merchant mariners that inhaled asbestos fibers could go on to develop asbestos-related illnesses, such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis, 10-50 years later.

Get help if you or a loved one developed mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos on merchant marine ships or any other vessels. Call (877) 450-8973 to get started.

Risks for Shipbuilders & Shipyard Workers

U.S. Navy veterans or anyone else who built merchant marine ships in shipyards could also face health risks caused by asbestos. Shipyard workers had to build new ships, repair ship components, and dismantle older vessels. Workers commonly had to install or remove asbestos-based parts during these activities, and asbestos fibers would go flying into the air as a result.

This meant anyone working in shipyards could have been exposed to asbestos-containing products, putting them at risk of asbestos-related illnesses later in life.

List of Merchant Marine Ships With Asbestos

It is known that almost all U.S. Navy ships built before the early 1980s used asbestos in some way. Many merchant marine ships were built with asbestos, too.

Some merchant marine ships that contained asbestos included:

  • S.S. Alcoa Cavalier
  • S.S. Berkeley Victory
  • S.S. Burco Trader
  • S.S. Del Mar
  • S.S. Empire State
  • S.S. Keystone State
  • S.S. Morris Hillquit
  • S.S. Pacific Victory
  • S.S. Samuel Chase
  • S.S. Simon Benson
  • S.S. Spencer Kellogg
  • S.S. Thomas Lynch
  • S.S. Tydol Bayonne
  • S.S. William Hooper
  • S.S. William J. Bryan

There are many more merchant marine vessels than the ones listed above that used asbestos. Learn if a ship you served on put you in danger of mesothelioma: Contact our team right now.

History of the Merchant Marines

Merchant marine ships were mostly used during wartime. They would transport cargo and troops from place to place as part of a Naval convoy.

Did you know?

Merchant marine ships provided a lot of services during World War II. They transported two hundred billion pounds of material during this time, much of which was lost during battles.

There were thousands of merchant marine ships in service from 1937 to 1947. Merchant marine vessels included hospital ships, tankers, and liberty ships that provided ammunition and other materials to the U.S. soldiers who were fighting the war.

During war, the merchant marine ships operate under the auspices of the U.S. Navy. However, in peacetime, they are considered civilian ships.

Merchant Marine Ships Today

Merchant marine ships are still in use today. As of 2018, there were nearly 200 merchant marine vessels in operation, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Sadly, many merchant marine veterans are developing asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma if they served prior to the early 1980s.

Compensation Options for Navy Veterans Exposed to Asbestos

Those that developed mesothelioma from asbestos on merchant marine ships can get compensation and, in some cases, VA benefits. These resources can help mariners with mesothelioma afford treatment and any other expenses.

Asbestos Claims and Lawsuits

If you have mesothelioma, you may qualify for an asbestos claim to seek payment from the manufacturers of asbestos-containing products.

  • Many asbestos manufacturers declared bankruptcy and set up trust funds to pay mesothelioma patients while avoiding lawsuits. Asbestos trust funds contain more than $30 billion in total.
  • If a manufacturer doesn’t have a trust fund and is still active, you may be able to get money through a private lawsuit. Mesothelioma lawsuits typically award $1 million or more and are never filed against the military or government.

Not sure how to start a claim? We can help. Get a Free Veterans Packet now to learn more.

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VA Claims and Benefits

If you’re a veteran with mesothelioma, you can pursue financial compensation and health care coverage through VA benefits.

Key mesothelioma VA benefits include:

  • Health care services, including free or low-cost treatment from top mesothelioma doctors at VA medical centers
  • Mesothelioma disability compensation worth $3,823.89 per month or more as of 2023 in many cases
  • Survivor benefits to help your family if you pass away from mesothelioma or another service-related condition

See if you can file for VA benefits if you or your loved one has mesothelioma 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

Help for Veterans With Mesothelioma

The merchant marines and mesothelioma are forever linked due to the use of asbestos aboard merchant vessels. Life after a mesothelioma diagnosis can be incredibly stressful, but our team is here to assist you in any way we can.

The Mesothelioma Veterans Center is proud to help those who got sick after serving on a merchant marine vessel or any other ship access VA benefits, health care services, and financial compensation.

Learn more about how we can help you or a family member in our Free Veterans Packet. On behalf of our entire team, thank you for serving your country.

FAQs About Asbestos on Merchant Marine Ships

Do merchant marine ships still have asbestos?

It’s not likely that merchant marine ships still in use contain asbestos. Many older vessels that were built with asbestos are no longer in use today. That said, if a ship you served on was made before the early 1980s, ask its owner if asbestos-based products could be on board.

Which merchant marine ships had asbestos?

At this time, dozens of merchant marine vessels are confirmed to have used asbestos aboard. Ships known to have contained asbestos include the S.S. Burco Trader, S.S. Del Mar, S.S. Empire State, and S.S. Keystone State.

Our team can help determine if a merchant marine vessel you served on used asbestos. Call (877) 450-8973 now to get started.

Why was asbestos used on merchant marine ships if it was dangerous?

Before the early 1980s, the risks of asbestos were largely hidden by the makers of asbestos-containing products, who wanted to keep their profit margins high.

Asbestos had a number of good qualities that made it useful aboard merchant marine ships and other vessels. The ships used asbestos insulation to keep out the cold of the ocean. Asbestos also helped keep the ships fireproof.

These benefits, obviously, did not outweigh the deadly risks of asbestos, which is why most merchant marine vessels are no longer built with this toxic substance.

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.