The USS Scorpion (SSN-589) is most famous for its tragic end – the Skipjack-class nuclear submarine was lost in the Atlantic Ocean in May 1968 with 99 crew members on board. The Scorpion is one of two nuclear submarines the Navy has lost.
The USS Scorpion – the sixth vessel of the U.S. Navy to carry its name – was ordered in January 1957 and built by the Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics Corporation in Groton, Connecticut. The 252-foot submarine was laid down in August 1958 and launched in December 1959. She was sponsored by Elizabeth S. Morrison, the daughter of the final commander of the World War II-era USS Scorpion – which ironically, was also lost in 1944.
Based out of a home port of Norfolk, Virginia, the Scorpion mainly specialized in developing nuclear submarine warfare tactics, and took part in exercises along the Atlantic coast. She periodically interrupted this work for patrols, including a trans-Atlantic patrol in fall 1964 and another European patrol in spring 1965. In 1966, she was deployed for special operations.
The Scorpion developed an excellent reputation; as a quick attack submarine, she became a sought-after assignment for officers hoping to move up the Naval ranks. That changed in 1967, though, when she reported to the Norfolk Naval Shipyard for an extended overhaul, but ended up getting only the basic emergency fixes before being sent back out for duty. This made serving aboard the Scorpion more challenging for her crew members, and some report that morale on board suffered during her final six months.
In February 1968, the Scorpion set off for deployment in the Mediterranean Sea; this operation lasted into May and then she set off for her home port of Norfolk. But along the way she suffered serious malfunctions, including a leak in her refrigeration systems and an electrical fire. She tried to send radio signals to a naval station in Spain, but could only make contact with a station in Greece. That was the last contact anyone had with the Scorpion; she failed to report to Norfolk six days later.
A search was launched but it was without success, and the Scorpion and her crew of 99 men was declared lost on June 5, 1968. While the cause of her loss remains uncertain, experts believe it was caused by a problem with a torpedo battery. It is known that the explosion broke the submarine into two pieces, which were located 10,000 feet deep near the Azores in the Atlantic Ocean.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Scorpion (SSN-589)
At the time the USS Scorpion was constructed in the late 1950s, it was common practice to use asbestos aboard all U.S. Navy submarines; in fact, starting in the 1920s, the Navy required it. Upheld for its strength, resistance to heat and ability to prevent fire, asbestos was used in insulation, gaskets and other items throughout the submarines – in engine and boiler rooms, but also in living quarters, on pipes, and in fireproof cloth throughout the vessel.
It was all but guaranteed that anyone serving aboard a U.S. Navy submarine between the 1920s and 1970s would be exposed to asbestos – especially given the close working quarters of a submarine. Of course, today we know this exposure had disastrous effects: As they age, asbestos products begin to crack and release toxic dust into the air. Miniscule asbestos fibers in this dust can become embedded in a person’s lung tissue, causing serious respiratory diseases such as mesothelioma cancer.
Far too many veterans have made to suffer with these diseases late in their lives through no fault of their own. If you think you or a loved one may be at risk, take the time to learn about your health and legal options.Sources
USS Scorpion (SSN-589) – Wikipedia
“Loss of the Nuclear Submarine USS Scorpion” – Submarine History