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Mine Warfare Vessels & Vietnam

U.S. Mine Warfare Ships Full of Asbestos Created Risk of MesotheliomaThe U.S. Navy used minesweepers throughout the War in Vietnam and in particular during Operation “Market Time” and Operation “End Sweep.”  Minesweepers serve to safeguard servicemen and other ships from the threat posed by naval mines.

U.S. Navy minesweepers that served in the Vietnam War generally worked in three main ways:

  • Performing a sweep with an underwater cable that slices through the mooring cables of floating mines and then destroying the mines that float to the surface with gunfire;
  • Towing a noise-making apparatus that triggers acoustic mines, causing them to detonate; and
  • Towing a device behind the ship that creates a magnetic field and detonates magnetic mines.

The vessels the Navy used most for minesweeping during the Vietnam War were the Minesweeper (AM), Ocean Minesweeper (MSO) and the Coastal Minesweeper (MSC).  Coastal minesweepers (MSC) were restricted for use during coastal operations as opposed to minesweeping operations on the high seas.  Coastal minesweepers were small, built of wood and fairly slow.  Minesweeping at sea was performed by older AM minesweepers that were steel-hulled and diesel-powered and by the newer MSO minesweepers – wood-hulled and propelled by aluminum engines.

Learn more about U.S. Navy minesweepers and ASBESTOS EXPOSURE


U.S. Navy mine warfare vessels that served in the Vietnam War include the following:

Minesweepers (AM)

  • USS Impervious (AM-449) minesweeper in South China Sea (1967)USS Excel (AM-439)
  • USS Guide (AM-447)
  • USS Illusive (AM-448)
  • USS Impervious (AM-449)
  • USS Inflict (AM-456)
  • USS Loyalty (AM-457)
  • USS Nimble (AM-459)
  • USS Prime (AM-466)
  • USS Towhee (AM-388)

Coastal minesweepers (MSC)

  • USS Albatross (MSC-289)
  • USS Gannet (MSC-290)
  • USS Peacock (MSC-198)

Ocean Minesweepers (MSO)

  • Prime (MSO-466) asbestos-insulated minesweeper in VietnamUSS Acme (MSO-508)
  • USS Adroit (MSO-509)
  • USS Advance (MSO-510)
  • USS Affray (MSO-511)
  • USS Alacrity (MSO-520)
  • USS Assurance (MSO-521)
  • USS Leader (MSO-490)
  • USS Lucid (MSO-458)
  • USS Notable (MSO-460)
  • USS Observer (MSO-461)
  • USS Pluck (MSO-464)
  • USS Prestige (MSO-465)
  • USS Reaper (MSO-467)
  • USS Rival (MSO-468)
  • USS Sagacity (MSO-469)
  • USS Skill (MSO-471)
  • USS Stalwart (MSO-493)
  • USS Sturdy (MSO-494)
  • USS Swerve (MSO-495)
  • USS Venture (MSO-496)
  • USS Vital (MSO-474)

 Asbestos on minesweepers during Vietnam War

Thank you for your service to our countryAs with other Navy vessels, U.S. Navy minesweepers serving in the Vietnam War were heavily insulated with asbestos.  Indeed, the use of asbestos products in the United States was at an all-time high during the Vietnam era in the 1960s and 1970s.  While the MSOs were not driven by high pressure steam boilers that required extensive insulation, asbestos insulation products were nevertheless present in abundance.  Many pipes were covered with asbestos insulation materials.  Asbestos fireproofing was used throughout the ships.  High temperature equipment required the use of asbestos pads and felt.  The hundreds of valves, pumps and flanges around the ship all necessitated insulation with asbestos packing and gaskets.

The asbestos insulation and fireproofing products present on the minesweepers used in the Vietnam War would of course become damaged and worn out over time and need to be ripped out and replaced.  This work would send up billows of dust containing tiny asbestos fibers.  Once the servicemen aboard the minesweepers inhaled those asbestos fibers, they were put at risk for mesothelioma, a rare and fatal cancer caused by asbestos exposure.  The Navy’s brave “Iron Men” faced two deadly risks in Vietnam – the one they knew about and the other they didn’t.

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