The USS Hammerhead (SSN-663) was a Sturgeon-class attack submarine built for the U.S. Navy in the mid-1960s. She was the second Navy ship to be named after the odd-looking hammerhead shark – which, as its name suggests, is known by its hammer-shaped head. In the late 1980s, Tom Clancy, the author of the 1984 novel “The Hunt for Red October,” was given a ride on the Hammerhead in preparation for the filming of the 1990 film adaptation of the book.
In May 1964, the U.S. Navy awarded a contract to build the Hammerhead to Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company in Newport News, Virginia. The ship’s keel was laid down there in November 1965. She was launched on April 14, 1967, sponsored by Mrs. O. Clark Fisher, and was commissioned June 28, 1968 under the leadership of Commander E. Frederick Murphy, Jr.
The Hammerhead was propelled by one S5W nuclear reactor and was outfitted with four torpedo tubes capable of blasting Mark 48 torpedoes, SUBROC missiles and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles, among other weaponry.
The USS Hammerhead served the Navy for nearly three decades, from her launch in 1967 until she was decommissioned in 1995, and traveled much of the world during the course of her career. In one of her earlier voyages, the Hammerhead traveled to the North Pole, surfacing through the polar ice in November 1970. Later travels would take her to the Mediterranean Sea (1974), the North Atlantic (1974 and 1975), and again to the Arctic (1991).
The Hammerhead was highly regarded for her work, and in 1981 she was awarded the Marjorie Sterrett Battleship Fund Award for the Atlantic Fleet. This award, which is presented annually to one ship in the U.S. Atlantic and one in the U.S. Pacific Fleet, is usually presented to the a ship that is considered the most battle-ready in its fleet.
The Hammerhead was decommissioned on April 5, 1995, and was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on the same day. She was scrapped through the Nuclear-Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington. The process was completed November 22, 1995.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Hammerhead (SSN-663)
Individuals who spent time aboard the USS Hammerhead and other U.S. Navy vessels between the 1920s and 1970s could be at risk of being diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease. Now known as a dangerous carcinogen, it wasn’t long ago that asbestos was widely used in a number of products and industries – including Navy ships. Asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral, is comprised of long, crystalline fibers that are extremely strong, durable and fire-resistant. Unfortunately, these shard-like fibers can also cause fatal diseases like asbestosis, a non-cancerous lung disease, and mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that strikes the lining of a person’s internal organs, most commonly the lungs.
It is highly likely that sailors, deckhands and shipyard workers who worked aboard the Hammerhead were exposed to asbestos throughout the course of their work. The culprit was likely asbestos-containing insulation, which covered pipes, insulated floorboards and padded engine and boiler parts in the mechanical areas of the ship. When this insulation aged and cracked, or when it was torn out and replaced – a process conducted several times during a ship’s career – it emitted a dust laden with tiny asbestos particles. When inhaled or swallowed, those particles could become embedded in a person’s lungs or abdomen; down the line, this exposure could result in an asbestos-related disease.
The Navy stopped using asbestos in its ships several decades ago, but veterans could still be at risk. It can take as long as 40 to 50 years for symptoms of mesothelioma – such as coughing, chest pain and fatigue – to begin to appear. Therefore, a person who was exposed to asbestos aboard the Hammerhead may be at risk and not even be aware of it yet.
Thousands of veterans who bravely served the United States now face the risk of asbestos disease as a result of their service. If you believe you or someone you know could be at risk, discuss any concerns with your doctor as soon as possible.Sources
Wikipedia – USS Hammerhead (SSN-663)
USS Hammerhead (SSN-663) website
Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships – USS Hammerhead (SSN-663)
NavSource – USS Hammerhead (SSN-663)