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Asbestos on Merchant Marine Ships

United States merchant marine ships carried goods during peacetime and served as naval auxiliary vessels during World War II. Unfortunately, those who served on these ships are at risk of developing mesothelioma years later from the asbestos onboard. See if our team can help you or a veteran you love access benefits and other compensation for mesothelioma from asbestos on merchant marine ships.

Fact-Checked and Updated by: Jenna Tozzi, RN

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Did the Military Use Asbestos on Merchant Marine Ships?

Merchant marine ship

Yes, a wide range of asbestos products were used to build merchant marine ships, as well as most U.S. military vessels.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral made of microscopic fibers that is durable and resistant to fire and corrosion. Because of these qualities, it was heavily used in shipbuilding from the 1930s to the early 1980s.

However, when asbestos fibers are breathed in or swallowed, they can lead to asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis 10-50 years later.

As a result, many merchant mariners who served on these boats are being diagnosed with mesothelioma today.

U.S. veterans with mesothelioma from asbestos on merchant marine ships may be entitled to benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), legal compensation, and treatment from top cancer doctors.

Learn more in our Free Veterans Compensation Guide.

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  • File a VA claim
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List of Merchant Marine Ships That Used Asbestos

Merchant marine ships included tankers, hospital ships, and other vessels that provided supplies to soldiers in times of war.

The heavy use of asbestos on merchant marine ships built before the early 1980s kept these vessels solid and seaworthy, but it also posed a risk to those who lived and worked onboard.

The following U.S. merchant marine ships contained asbestos:

  • 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. Lurline (Matson Line)
  • S.S. Mobilube
  • S.S. Mormacdove
  • S.S. Mormacsea
  • S.S. Morris Hillquit
  • S.S. Oakey L. Alexander (formerly the S.S. Laconia Victory)
  • 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

In addition to the 46 merchant marine ships above, almost all U.S. Navy ships constructed during this time relied on asbestos products. See if a Navy ship you served on contained asbestos using our free search tool below.

Merchant Marines and Asbestos Exposure: Who Was at Risk?

Anyone who spent time on merchant marine ships was at risk of asbestos exposure. Asbestos fibers could become airborne as asbestos-based products were installed, repaired, or maintained.

However, merchant marine seamen and Navy veterans who performed certain tasks as part of their job duties were especially at risk. These service members likely handled asbestos-based products or worked close to others who did.

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

  • Boiler room operators
  • Electricians
  • Engine room workers
  • Mechanics
  • Plumbers and pipefitters
  • Welders

Additionally, shipyard workers who built merchant marine ships and U.S. naval ships were at risk of inhaling and swallowing asbestos fibers on a daily basis.

Shipyards were notorious for being filled with clouds of asbestos dust as workers cut, drilled, and otherwise disturbed asbestos products.

Call our team at (866) 608-8933 if you or a loved one has mesothelioma after serving on a merchant marine ship. We can help you access VA benefits, legal compensation, and medical treatment if you’re eligible.

Where Was Asbestos on Merchant Marine Ships?

Asbestos-containing materials could be found from stem to stern on merchant marine vessels.

Particular areas of merchant marine ships that needed to be fireproof and well-insulated had the highest concentration of airborne asbestos. These areas included the engine room, pump room, and damage control room.

These high-risk areas often contained asbestos products like:

  • Boilers, which often used asbestos insulation and coverings to retain heat
  • Electrical wiring, which was lined with asbestos to keep it safe in case of a fire
  • Gaskets, which created a mechanical seal and had many applications
  • Insulation, which was used for soundproofing
  • Piping that moved water for various uses
  • Valves that helped control the movement of water

Merchant marines who worked directly with these products may have inhaled or ingested asbestos fibers, putting them at risk of developing mesothelioma later in life.

Compensation for Merchant Marines With Mesothelioma

Merchant mariners and U.S. Navy veterans who developed mesothelioma from asbestos on merchant marine ships may be eligible for financial compensation.

Mesothelioma compensation can help veterans afford potentially life-extending treatments and provide for their families.

Compensation options for veterans with mesothelioma include:

  • Asbestos trust funds: Some asbestos companies facing lawsuits related to their products filed for bankruptcy to avoid taking responsibility. However, they were court-ordered to set aside money to pay victims. Today, there’s more than $30 billion available in these trust funds.
  • Mesothelioma lawsuits: These lawsuits award $1 million or more on average, and most veterans never have to appear in court. Mesothelioma claims are filed against negligent asbestos companies, not the U.S. military or government.
  • VA benefits: Veterans with mesothelioma typically qualify for nearly $4,000 per month in disability payments as of 2024, free or low-cost health care from VA mesothelioma specialists, survivor benefits for their loved ones, and more.

You may be entitled to compensation from all three options. Mesothelioma Hope can help you take advantage of these avenues for financial assistance. Learn more by downloading our Free Veterans Compensation Guide.

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  • Access $30+ billion in trust funds
  • File a VA claim
  • Receive legal compensation

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How Mesothelioma Hope Can Help Merchant Mariners With Mesothelioma

Those who served their country aboard merchant marine ships and later developed mesothelioma or other asbestos-related illnesses deserve the best possible medical treatment, legal help, and financial assistance.

Mesothelioma Hope can assist veterans affected by asbestos on merchant marine ships.

We can help you:

  • Apply for VA benefits or increase your current benefits after a mesothelioma diagnosis
  • Find top mesothelioma doctors and cancer centers near you
  • Pursue legal compensation typically worth over $1 million

Our team of nurses, Patient Advocates, and VA-accredited mesothelioma lawyers are standing by to answer your questions and start your claim for benefits.

Call (866) 608-8933 right now or download our Free Veterans Compensation Guide to learn more.

Asbestos on Merchant Marine Ships FAQs

Is asbestos still used on ships?

U.S. Navy ships are no longer built with asbestos-based products, and steps have been taken to secure asbestos in older ships, so that it doesn’t pose a danger to those onboard.

Asbestos use on Navy ships was phased out once the dangers were brought to light in the 1980s.

A small number of Navy vessels may have asbestos on them still since it wasn’t possible to remove all of it. In these cases, the asbestos products are inspected to make sure they don’t pose a threat to human health.

When was asbestos removed from U.S. Navy ships?

Asbestos was removed from most U.S. Navy ships in the 1980s through major renovation efforts. This included merchant marine vessels that were still in use.

However, asbestos-containing products were left behind on some vessels if they were sturdy and posed a low risk to human health.

As a result, a handful of Navy vessels contain asbestos even today.

Where is asbestos found on ships?

Asbestos products were used throughout merchant marine and U.S. Navy ships. Boilers, wires, electrical components, and more all relied on the substance.

Even though asbestos-containing products are no longer used to build ships, many veterans are diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma today because of their exposure decades ago.

Were shipyard workers exposed to asbestos?

Those who worked in American shipyards prior to the early 1980s building merchant marine and U.S. Navy ships were more likely than not exposed to asbestos.

This is because the dangers of asbestos were not public knowledge at the time.

Shipyard workers routinely cut and drilled asbestos-containing materials, creating asbestos dust that could be inhaled or ingested.

Can you sue the Navy for asbestos-related diseases?

No, you cannot sue the U.S. Navy for mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases from asbestos on merchant marine ships or naval vessels. Still, you may be able to file a lawsuit against the companies responsible for making you sick.

Mesothelioma lawsuits are filed against negligent asbestos companies that knew of the health risks related to their products but failed to warn the general public.

A mesothelioma law firm can help eligible veterans take legal action and pursue compensation for their injuries.

Can you get VA benefits for asbestos exposure on merchant marine ships?

Yes, veterans who developed mesothelioma or a related illness from asbestos on merchant marine ships may qualify for VA benefits.

To do so, you must file a VA claim with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Our team can help you file for VA benefits or increase the amount you already receive if you’re eligible. Call (866) 608-8933 right now to get started.

Jenna TozziWritten by:

Director of Patient Advocacy

Jenna Tozzi, RN, is the Director of Patient Advocacy at Mesothelioma Hope. With more than 15 years of experience as an adult and pediatric oncology nurse navigator, Jenna provides exceptional guidance and support to mesothelioma patients and their loved ones. Jenna has been featured in Oncology Nursing News and is a member of the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators & the American Nurses Association.

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  1. Lemen, R. A., & Landrigan, P. J. (2021). Sailors and the Risk of Asbestos-Related Cancer. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(16), 8417. Retrieved
    May 13, 2024, from
  2. Everything You Need to Know About the Merchant Marine. Retrieved May 13, 2024, from
  3. National Archives. (2022, March 2). Researching Asbestos aboard US Naval Vessel up through 1961. Retrieved May 13, 2024, from
  4. National Cancer Institute. (2022, December 5). Asbestos. Retrieved May 13, 2024, from
  5. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (2023, July 18). Veterans asbestos exposure. Retrieved May 13, 2024, from
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