Asbestos in the military

USS Coral Sea (CV-43)

Description:  History of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Coral Sea (CV-43) including information about asbestos exposure for workers.

The USS Coral Sea (CV-43), nicknamed “Ageless Warrior,” was ordered for the U.S. Navy on June 14, 1943.  Her keel was laid down at Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company on July 10, 1944. She was launched on April 2, 1946 and commissioned on October 1, 1947 under the command of Captain A.P. Storrs III.

USS Coral Sea took part in training exercises and overhaul until May 1949, when she spent her first deployment with the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean Sea. Her second deployment was also with the Sixth Fleet in the same location from September 9, 1950 to February 1, 1951.

The USS Coral Sea became the flagship for the Commander of Carrier Division 6 on March 20, 1951, and she took part in the NATO Exercise Beehive I.  She sailed against with the Sixth Fleet in April 1952. She was reclassified at sea as CVA-43 on October 1, 1952 before returning to Norfolk for overhaul on October 12.

Throughout the 1950s, USS Coral Sea continued to participate in training exercises and cruise to the Mediterranean. She carried out tests and received foreign dignitaries. The carrier helped evacuate American citizens from Egypt during the Suez Crisis of 1956. She was decommissioned on May 24, 1957 as she underwent a major conversion at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. She was fitted with an angled deck and another of other upgrades to be reclassified as SCB-110A. She was recommissioned on January 25, 1960.

USS Coral Sea helped evaluate the Pilot Landing Aid Television (PLAT) system, which was helpful for safety and instructional purposes. After the Gulf of Tonkin Incident in August 1964, the carrier sailed for duty with the Seventh Fleet in December. Her aircraft launched strikes against Dong Hoi on February 7, 1965. On March 26, she joined in Operation Rolling Thunder, bombing military targets throughout Northern Vietnam. She sailed home on November 1, 1965.

The USS Coral Sea completed a number of deployments to Vietnam until 1975, conducting numerous air strikes against North Vietnamese targets. She was involved in Operation Freedom Porch, Operation Pocket Money, and Operation Frequent Wind, the last of which helped evacuate U.S. personnel and Vietnamese after the fall of Saigon.

From there, the USS Coral Sea sailed to help recover the U.S. merchant ship SS Mayaguez after it had been illegally seized by the Khmer Rouge in international waters on May 1975. Her aircraft flew protective air strikes to cover the landing teams that rescued the crew and secured the merchant ship. American military forces lost 18 men in the action. The USS Coral Sea received a Meritorious Unit Commendation for her participation.

USS Coral Sea was reclassified as a multi-purpose aircraft carrier, CV-43, on June 30, 1975. In 1980, she headed to the Arabian Sea to support operations following the Iran hostage crisis. She later participated in exercises with the British Royal Navy.

In March 1983, USS Coral Sea changed her homeport from Alameda to Norfolk. On April 11, 1985, she collided with Ecuadorian tanker Napo during training, requiring two months of repair work. Later that year, she sailed to the Mediterranean with the Sixth Fleet.

Aircraft from the USS Coral Sea flew combat air patrols when Libyan armed forces fires on U.S. naval forces in the international waters of the Gulf of Sidra on March 24, 1986. She struck targets in Libya the following month in support of Operation El Dorado Canyon. The carrier continued to be deployed to the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean for the remainder of the decade. While in the Caribbean, she provided assistance to the battleship USS Iowa when an explosion onboard killed 47 members of their crew.

The USS Coral Sea was decommissioned on April 26, 1990 and struck from the Naval Vessel Register on April 28. She was sold for scrap on May 7, 1993. At nearly 70,000 tons, she was the largest vessel ever scrapped at that time, possible the largest U.S. aircraft carrier to ever be scrapped.

Like other ships built during World War II, the USS Coral Sea used a number of asbestos-containing components in her construction. Asbestos was prized for its fireproofing abilities and its resistance to heat, corrosion, and water. Because of this, the toxic substance could be found in nearly every area of the ship, as well as in the aircraft she carried. Anyone who served on or around the USS Coral Sea was put at risk of developing asbestos-related  illnesses like asbestosis, lung cancer, throat cancer, stomach cancer, colon cancer, rectal cancer, and mesothelioma, an aggressive form of cancer that affects the protective lining surrounding the lungs and other organs.

USS Coral Sea workers should monitor their health carefully, and consult a doctor if they experience any symptoms associated with mesothelioma.  Anyone who worked on or around the USS Coral Sea, and is diagnosed with mesothelioma, should also consider contacting a lawyer to discuss their legal rights.

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