The USS Finback (SSN-670) was the second U.S. Navy ship to be named for the finback, a type of baleen whale common off the United States’ Atlantic coast. The nuclear-powered attack submarine was a member of the Sturgeon class, and operated under the motto “All Good Men.”
The Finback was constructed at Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company in Newport News, Virginia. The contract to build her was awarded to the shipyard on March 9, 1965, and her keel was laid down there more than two years later, on June 26, 2967. She was launched on December 7, 1968, and was sponsored by Mrs. Charles F. Baird, wife of the Under Secretary of the Navy. The ship was commissioned on February 4, 1970 under the leadership of Commander Robert C. Austin. The 292-foot submarine was powered by a nuclear reactor and was outfitted with four torpedo tubes. She carried a complement of 109 – 14 officers and 95 enlisted men.
The Sturgeon class of submarines, sometimes called the “637 class,” was the ship of choice for many missions during the Cold War, causing the vessels to be nicknamed the “work horses” of the submarine fleet. Members of the class had a long “lifespan”; while the Navy allowed them to serve as long as 33 years, they were often removed from service earlier to avoid costly reactor refueling operations.
After her commissioning in 1970, the Finback went on to serve the U.S. Navy for 27 years. In that time, two minor collisions were reported. In 1974, the Finback was involved in a collision with the USS Kittiwake (ASR-13) at the Norfolk Naval Base; only minor damage was sustained. In 1989, a fire broke out aboard the Finback during sea trials, forcing the ship to return to port. Again, no one was injured and only minor damage was reported.
There were also laudable accomplishments during the Finback’s career: In 1986, the ship won the highly coveted Marjorie Sterrett Battleship Fund Award for the United States Atlantic Fleet, a designation usually given to the ship that is considered the most battle-ready in its fleet. Only two such awards are given out per year, one for the Atlantic and one for the Pacific fleet.
The Finback was decommissioned on March 28, 1997, and was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register the same day. She was scrapped at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington, part of the Nuclear-Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program. The scrapping was completed on October 30, 1997.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Finback (SSN-670)
Asbestos played an important role in the construction of U.S. Navy vessels for much of the 20th century. A natural fire-proofing agent, asbestos was widely used to prevent fire aboard submarines like the USS Finback – an important task, given the extreme heat produced by the vessels’ mechanical equipment. The benefits to asbestos were many; it was strong, durable, versatile, easy to obtain from African and Canadian mines, and enticingly cheap. Sadly, though, while asbestos was supposed to keep people safe from harm, it introduced an altogether different health risk: asbestos-related diseases.
The United States government banned nearly all uses of asbestos in the 1970s, and around that time its use was phased out aboard Navy vessels as well. Unfortunately, by that time, countless people’s health had been impacted by exposure to the substance. Asbestos products – such as insulation, tape, gaskets, packing materials and fireproof blankets – frequently release toxic dust into the air; when inhaled or swallowed, this dust had the ability to cause serious lung damage. Emphysema, asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma cancer have all been associated with exposure to this hazardous dust.
Because of the close quarters in which they worked, men who served aboard the USS Finback were likely exposed to asbestos during the course of their work – even if they never handled asbestos directly. In addition, shipyard workers involved in the construction, repair, maintenance or scrapping of the Finback were put at a very high risk for exposure. Some studies have even found that family members of shipyard workers and even individuals who simply lived downwind of a shipyard saw increased risk for asbestos-related lung diseases.
It can take decades for symptoms of some asbestos-related diseases to crop up in the human body. That means even if you aren’t presenting symptoms, if you served aboard the USS Finback or another Navy vessel between the 1920s and the 1970s, you could be at risk. Talk to your doctor about your risk of asbestos-related diseases, or request a mesothelioma information packet from this website today.Sources
Wikipedia – USS Finback (SSN-670)
Navy Site – USS Finback (SSN-670)
“Asbestos Disease in Family Contacts of Shipyard Workers”