In World War II there were 215,000 men serving in the Merchant Marine at its peak, working at a perilous wartime job. There were over 20,000 mariners killed or wounded in that war, due in great measure to the tremendous success the German Navy had in attacking convoys in the Atlantic after the U.S. entered the war. There was an average of 33 merchant ships sunk each week in the Atlantic in 1942. The cargo ships and troop carriers were in just as much danger as American warships, perhaps more so because they were unarmed.
Asbestos in the Merchant Marine
One of the startling statistics about asbestos exposure in the military is the high percentage of mesothelioma victims that have been Navy veterans or shipyard employees. The same level of asbestos exposure occurred for sailors in the Merchant Marine and shipyard workers who repaired the Liberty ships and other cargo ships that supplied American troops. Literally tons of asbestos insulation was used in ships built for military and commercial use from 1930 to about 1970. Asbestos was used to insulate the boilers on those ships, to insulate the miles of pipes that ran through the ships, and was used as fire retardant material in the bulkheads and the ships’ interior.
Ships had dozens of pumps operating onboard, and most of those had asbestos gaskets and bearing seals. Asbestos was an abundant material in the marine environment for Navy and Merchant Marine personnel, which is why so many of them developed asbestos related diseases later in life. The Merchant Marine did not play such a prominent role in the Korean War or the Vietnam war, but the amount of shipping conducted by American lines spiked during both those wars, causing additional exposure for sailors serving on cargo vessels. In 1950 the newly organized Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS) began carrying military cargo to Korea, and was involved in troop and refugee movement as well.
Mesothelioma in the Merchant Marine
Mesothelioma is the lethal cancer caused by the presence of asbestos fibers in the body. It has an average latency period of about forty years; the average age of a mesothelioma patient is sixty five. Sailors who are exposed to asbestos on board ship develop asbestos related disease decades later. Merchant mariners have been victims to the nautical exposure to asbestos that has plagued Navy veterans from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. The use of asbestos for insulation in ships stopped after about 1970, but crewmen operating older vessels lived with the dangerous materials until they were eventually cleaned up or the ship was scrapped. In 1988 after a long court battle, the Merchant Marine veterans who served in World War II were finally awarded veteran status.
Asbestos Legal Rights for Merchant Mariners
While veterans’ rights have not been extended to many thousands of merchant mariners, any sailor who has developed malignant mesothelioma cancer or any other asbestos related disease may seek compensation from the manufacturers of asbestos products that were used on those ships. Thousands of Navy veterans from those wars have sued asbestos companies and won. Merchant sailors have those same rights and should have the same expectations for financial compensation caused by lethal asbestos products. If you served on a cargo ship at some point and have developed an asbestos related disease, contact our law offices today. One of our attorneys will review your case with you in complete privacy and at no charge.