Named for the state of New York, the S.S. Empire State was built in 1945 at the Moore Drydock Company in Oakland, California. The vessel was launched in July of that year. Originally named S.S. Sparkling Wave, she was finally delivered to the U.S. Maritime Commission in 1946. That same year, it was sold to the States Marine Corporation and renamed Empire State, serving as a freighter for the next fourteen years with that line.
In 1960, the vessel was sold again to the Global Bulk Transport Company. After ten years, it was transferred to a Panamanian company known as Reliance Carriers and renamed Reliance Fidelity. Her service with Reliance was short however; in 1971, she was sold for scrap to Taiwan Shipbreakers in Kaohsiung.
Asbestos has been used as a flame retardant since around 1860, but it wasn't until seventy-five years later that the federal government began mandating its use in ship construction. The reason was tied to the S.S. Morro Castle tragedy in September 1934, when the cruise liner of that name burned off the coast of New Jersey and 137 passengers and crew members perished.
Key players in the asbestos industry had known about asbestos' toxic properties by the late 1930s. However, in order to protect the bottom line, corporations such as W.R. Grace, Johns-Manville, Raysbestos and others engaged in a forty-year campaign of suppression and disinformation about their products. Because of this, when the U.S. government finally started advisories to shipyard workers about asbestos in 1943, the warnings were largely ignored.
Finally, in 1977, an attorney who was representing an asbestos victim uncovered documents that had been stored in a closet at Raysbestos, Inc. since the late 1930s. The “Sumner Simpson Papers” proved corporate collusion and malfeasance. Prior to this discovery, corporate defense lawyers had argued that their clients had not known of asbestos hazards and therefore bore no liability. The discovery of these papers meant that such an argument could no longer stand, and literally opened the floodgates to massive amounts of asbestos-related litigation and reports of mesothelioma navy cases that continues to the present day.
Asbestos disease and malignant mesothelioma symptoms usually are not apparent until twenty to sixty years after initial exposure to asbestos. Diagnosis is difficult, and proving that a specific asbestos product caused the disease requires massive amounts of research and documentation. In order to win a judgment in an asbestos case, diagnosis of mesothelioma by a qualified oncologist and a detailed work history are necessary. This history should include the name of all vessels aboard which one served or traveled as well as the dates. Ownership and registry of the vessel at the time is also useful in determining what asbestos products were used and which company manufactured them.Sources
Bowker, Michael. Fatal Deception: The Terrifying True Story of How Asbestos is Killing America. New York: Touchstone, 2003.
States Marine Lines. “Empire States.”