Description: History of Bender Shipbuilding and Repair Company in Mobile, Alabama, including information about asbestos exposure for shipyard workers.
Bender Welding and Machine Company began as a sole proprietorship in 1919; the company was incorporated in 1923 and moved to a larger facility. While it began as a machine shop and blacksmith shop, the company began to focus on building small tugboats and barges, as well as top-side and dry dock repairs, in 1952. The company name, however, did not change to Bender Shipbuilding and Repair Company until 1980. The Bender Welding and Machine Company’s first big job was the construction of Ladd Stadium in 1947.
During World War II, Bender Welding and Machine Company helped construct Liberty ships for the U.S. Navy. The shipyard averaged building one ship every 43 days. Shipyard workers constructed ships for the British fleet even before the United States entered the war.
The Bender Shipbuilding and Repair Company operates 12 yards with over 7,000 feet of deep water frontage. It also boats 11 overhead cranes, a 64 ton floating derrick crane, four floating dry docks capable of lifting over 24,000 tons, and over 150,000 square feet of shop and warehouse space. The shipyard is one of only a few full-fledged shipbuilders in the country, operating around the clock. It is known for new ship construction, repair and conversion, dry dock facilities, and surplus marine equipment sales. Shipyard workers build, service, and repair many types of vessels, including push boats, riverboats, tugboats, shrimp boats, tuna seiners, crabbers, factory trawlers, offshore supply vessels, and passenger vessels. Over 800 Bender-built ships can be found in both private and commercial fleets around the world.
Asbestos, a hazardous material known for its fireproofing properties and its resistance to corrosion, was commonly used in many shipbuilding components prior to the 1970s, including hot water pipes, steam pipes, boilers, turbines, incinerators, valves, gaskets, between decks and fire doors, and on bulkheads and cabin walls. Shipyard workers were exposed to asbestos without the benefit of respiratory gear, adequate ventilation, or protective clothing, putting them and their families at risk for contracting serious asbestos-related illnesses.
When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they can become lodged in the lungs, causing such diseases as asbestosis, mesothelioma, lung cancer, rectal cancer, colon cancer, stomach cancer, and esophageal cancer. Mesothelioma is a fatal form of cancer that attacks the lining of the lungs known as the mesothelium. Symptoms of mesothelioma do not present until 20 to 50 years after initial asbestos exposure, and are often mistaken as symptoms of lung cancer or pneumonia. Doctors often don’t consider a diagnosis of mesothelioma unless they know there is a prior history of asbestos exposure. Once mesothelioma is diagnosed, the prognosis generally gives the patient less than one year to live.
Bender Shipbuilding workers should monitor their health carefully, and consult a doctor if they experience any symptoms associated with mesothelioma. Anyone who worked at Bender Shipbuilding in Mobile and is diagnosed with mesothelioma should also consider contacting a lawyer to discuss their legal rights.