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USS Grayling (SSN-646)

The grayling—a fresh water game fish similar to the trout—served as the namesake for the USS Grayling. The fourth nuclear-powered fast attack submarine to be constructed as a unit of the Sturgeon-class of submarines, USS Grayling (SSN-645) was the fifth ship in the history of the US Navy to bear this name. In commission for nearly 28 years, she bore the motto “Fast Attack Tough” as she pursued Soviet submarines in an effort to track their movements and record their noise signatures.


After having received the contract for the construction of USS Grayling on September 5, 1962, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine laid down the keel of this ship on May 12, 1964. A launching ceremony took place on June 22, 1967 with Miss Lori Brinker serving as Grayling’s sponsor. Miss Brinker was the daughter of Lieutenant Commander Robert Brinker who served as the officer in command of Grayling (SS-209)—a ship that was lost at sea during World War II in September of 1943.

A complement of 109—14 officers and 95 enlisted men—served aboard the 292 foot, 3 inch Grayling that was capable of reaching speeds of up to 25 knots when submerged. Armed with four 21 inch torpedo tubes that were designed to accommodate MK-48 torpedoes in addition to Harpoon, Tomahawk, and SUBROC missiles, Grayling displaced 3,640 tons surfaced and 4,640 tons submerged.

Naval History

Known as the “work horses” of the US Navy’s fleet, Sturgeon-class submarines, such as USS Grayling, served as a deterrent force below the ocean’s surface charged with the task of maintaining peace and protecting the United States against any enemy threats originating in global waters.

Operating at depths down to 1,300 feet for extended periods of time, Grayling was capable of reaching high speeds in pursuit of enemy submarines. Throughout the course of her career, she completed successful deployments to the Mediterranean and the North Pole with a concentrated effort on tracking the movements and noise signatures of Soviet submarines.

Grayling underwent two documented overhaul periods. The first took place from August of 1978 through January of 1980. The second overhaul, completed at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, California, took place between March 30, 1987 and January 9, 1990.

USS Grayling collided with Novomoskovsk (K-407)—a Russian Navy ballistic missile submarine—on March 20, 1993. Grayling, who had been tracking the movements of this vessel, briefly lost contact with it. When she altered her course to relocate Novomoskovsk, Grayling found herself in a position where she was unable to avoid a collision. Due to the area of impact where the two submarines collided, the extent of the damage was not serious.

As her career neared a close, USS Grayling participated in a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) exercise known as TAPON 96 in June of 1996. This exercise, held in the eastern Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Cadiz, and the Alboran Sea, was a collaborative effort between US and Spanish forces.

Shortly after being decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on the same day—July 18, 1997—USS Grayling’s scrapping was completed by March 31, 1998 at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (Bremerton, Washington) by means of the US Navy’s Ship and Submarine Recycling Program.

Asbestos Risk on the USS Grayling (SSN-646)

The use of the naturally occurring mineral asbestos was widespread in the shipbuilding industry, especially between the 1930s through the late 1970s. Heat and fire resistance were the prime factors that made asbestos so appealing, particularly with regard to its use in ships where protection from heat and fire were a paramount concern. Mandated for use in more than 300 products by the US Navy, asbestos was a component of such items as insulation materials, gaskets, paints, adhesives, lubricants, cables, and valves. From one end of a ship to the other, from mechanical operating rooms (e.g., boiler rooms, navigation rooms) to living quarters (e.g., mess halls and sleeping quarters), sailors were literally surrounded by asbestos.

Construction, maintenance, and demolition—these three activities posed the greatest danger with regard to asbestos. When asbestos was disturbed during these activities relative to the shipbuilding industry, its friable fibers were released into the surrounding atmosphere. At this point, any individuals present were vulnerable to inhalation or ingestion of these airborne fibers. Once asbestos fibers enter the human body, they often become trapped and eventually embedded in lung tissue. Over time, scarring and inflammation results from the accumulation of these fibers and can give way to the development of one of several asbestos-related diseases—asbestosis, pleural plaques, lung cancer, or mesothelioma.

While both the quantity of asbestos an individual has been exposed to and the duration of time that asbestos exposure has occurred can elevate the level of one’s risk for developing asbestos-related illnesses, studies have proven that even brief periods of asbestos exposure can result in harmful health effects. Secondary exposure is another factor to take into consideration when exploring the development of ailments attributed to asbestos. Family members who resided in the same home as sailors or shipyard workers were also believed to be at risk for asbestos exposure as a result of fibers entering the home on clothing and other personal effects.

Current trends demonstrate that nearly 10,000 deaths occur in the United States each year as a direct result of exposure to asbestos. A large proportion of these individuals are in one way or another linked to the shipbuilding industry. Due to the extended latency period of asbestos-related diseases—ranging anywhere from 15 to 50 years—it is believed that numerous individuals at risk for developing such devastating sicknesses, such as mesothelioma, have yet to exhibit any symptoms alerting them to the presence of a serious health condition.

If you served aboard a submarine such as USS Grayling, or if you were involved in the construction, maintenance, or demolition of ships in US naval shipyards, it is highly likely that you may have been exposed to asbestos. In turn, this places you at potential risk for the development of an asbestos-related disease.

If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, please contact us for an information packet. This packet can provide you with detailed information about medical treatment options that are available to you as well as information about your legal rights and the various support systems in place to support you as a victim.



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