The USS Cavalla (SSN-684) was a nuclear-powered fast attack submarine, a member of the U.S. Navy’s Sturgeon class. She was the second Navy ship to be named after the cavalla, a variety of salt water fish. Serving under the motto “Any Mission, Any Time,” the Cavalla operated for nearly 25 years.
The U.S. Navy awarded the contract to build the USS Cavalla to the Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics Corporation in Groton, Connecticut, where her keel was laid down in June 1970. The ship was launched on February 19, 1972, sponsored by Mrs. Melvin Price. She was commissioned on February 9, 1973, with Commander Bruce DeMars in command.
The Cavalla was a member of the Sturgeon class – known as the “work horses” of the submarine fleet during the Cold War – but her design differed from that of her predecessors. The Cavalla was a modified “long hull” boat, measuring 10 feet longer than earlier ships in her class. She carried a complement of 12 officers and 98 enlisted men, and her weaponry consisted of four 21-inch torpedo tubes.
Throughout her nearly quarter-century career, the Cavalla operated throughout the Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic and Indian Oceans, with numerous deployments to the Atlantic and Mediterranean regions. She began her career operating out of Groton, Connecticut, but after an overhaul at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, she was transferred in 1980 to a new home port – Submarine Base Pearl Harbor at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. She was assigned to Submarine Squadron 1.
The Cavalla was an innovator in 1983, when the ship became the first submarine to successfully perform “drydeck shelter operations” – a technique in which a tank attached to the back of the submarine allowed people aboard her to leave the submarine while submerged. The technique was utilized in 1985 and 1986, when the Cavalla supported drydeck operations for SEAL team certification on a Western Pacific deployment. She was awarded a Meritorious Unit Commendation for her work.
More “firsts” followed. In 1995, the USS Cavalla embarked on the first ever Submarine Ice Expedition to the Arctic Oceans with civilian scientists. A year later, she conducted the first joint United States/Japanese Deep Submergence Rescue Vessel Operations.
During her career, the Cavalla earned numerous commendations, including the Navy Arctic Service Ribbon, the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, the National Defense Service Medal, the Navy Expeditionary Medal, three Navy’s Battle Efficiency "E" awards, two Navy Unit Commendations and two Meritorious Unit Commendations.
The Cavalla was decommissioned on March 30, 1998 and was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on the same day. She was scrapped under the Nuclear-Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington. The process was completed November 17, 2000.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Cavalla (SSN-684)
As the crew of the USS Cavalla traversed the globe, protecting our nation and earning a long list of awards for their bravery, they were also being exposed to a deadly substance that would significantly impact some of their lives. The substance was asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral that for years was used in insulation and other materials throughout Navy ships. The substance – known for its exceptional fireproofing qualities and relative low cost – covered pipes and machinery below deck in boiler and engine rooms, and was also used in mess hall, sleeping quarters and control rooms.
At the time, the public knew very little about the health hazards of asbestos; in fact, the mineral was used extensively, not just in the military, but for a vast range of industrial and commercial purposes. Building supplies, machine and car parts, even oven mitts and cigarettes were manufactured using the stringy fibers that comprised the mineral. Asbestos was so common, in fact, that by 1970 – the year the Cavalla was constructed – the United States was shipping some 1.4 billion pounds of the substance to its shores from mines in Canada and Africa.
Shipyards were major consumers of asbestos. Starting in 1922, the U.S. Navy issued an order that all its vessels be constructed with asbestos, a practice that lasted until the 1970s. By that time, the health effects of asbestos had become difficult to ignore; the mineral, deemed a “miracle mineral” a few short decades ago, is now known as a highly toxic substance that can cause myriad health problems.
Individuals who were exposed to asbestos are at risk of being diagnosed with asbestosis, a non-cancerous lung disease, and mesothelioma, a rare cancer that attacks the lining of a person’s internal organs, most often the lungs. If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, or if think you could be at risk of an asbestos-related disease, request an information packet to educate yourself about the risk factors and treatment options.Sources
USS Cavalla (SSN-684) Website
Wikipedia – USS Cavalla (SSN-684)
Naval Vessel Register
Wikipedia – Sturgeon-class Submarines
“Asbestos and Ship-building: Fatal Consequences”