U.S.S. Camden AOE 2 (Combat Support Ship)
U.S.S. Camden was designed to combine the functions of three separate support ships into one, operating as an oiler, a refrigerated supply ship, and as an ammunition ship simultaneously. It was built by the New York Shipbuilding Company and had the distinction of being the last ship to be launched at that facility. Camden was commissioned in 1967, initially homeported in Long Beach, and then transferred to Bremerton, Washington in 1974.
Camden was soon a fleet workhorse, making numerous deployments to the western Pacific and eventually earning seven battle stars for service off Vietnam. Providing ammunition to the ships operating on the gun line there was a major part of the ship’s duties, yet no less significant was the transfer of fresh food from Camden’s refrigerated holds, and fuel for the fleet.
As the US Naval presence in Vietnamese waters ebbed, the need for an increased presence in the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf grew, and Camden added those areas to its list of duties stations. Other than during maintenance and overhaul, Camden provided supplies to ships deployed in support of national interests.
The demand to support fleet units operating around the globe kept Camden at sea, with the ship supporting operations in all theaters. Camden’s flexibility allowed it to resupply vessels underway by coming alongside another ship or by sending supplies via its helicopters. Refueling ships underway was a common operation in all weathers and sea conditions. By the mid-1970s and continuing through the 1990s, a typical cruise would include supporting the fleet in the western Pacific, continuing on to units operating in the Indian Ocean, and then to the Persian Gulf, before returning home. The ship’s unforgiving schedule meant maintenance availabilities were hectic, with large amounts of repair and upkeep compressed into tight schedules. Such operations put heavier demands on the shop’s crew.
Camden operated in support of Operation Desert Storm and provided support to units that remained in the Persian Gulf enforcing the no-fly zone after that conflict. In the first years of the 21st century, the ship continued operating as before. Its final cruise was completed in 2005, escorting the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson and its task group on a cruise around the world. In October of that year, the ship was decommissioned and sold to Esco Marine, for scrapping.
Asbestos Exposure on U.S.S. Camden
U.S.S. Camden was dismantled by Esco Marine. Esco Marine has prepared materials for its employees discussing the areas on a ship most likely to contain asbestos. These areas are similar to those known to be heavily laden with asbestos at the time of the ship’s construction in New York.
Ships arrive at the breaker’s yard by towing, often after long periods of inactivity. Asbestos-laden pipe insulation is frequently deteriorated and plainly visible. Although during the ship’s operational life the paint would have been maintained, the nature of a ship means that often such deterioration is in hard to see and reach areas. Asbestos could have easily been released into the ship’s atmosphere by such an occurrence.
Numerous items containing asbestos, such as brake and clutch pads used in winches and capstans, remained on the ship at the time of its decommissioning. Other areas where asbestos may have been present at some point of the ship’s service like were deck tiles, fireproofed bulkheads, gaskets and seals, cements and epoxies, and boiler linings and valve packing.
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