The USS Seahorse (SSN-669) was the third U.S. Navy vessel and the second submarine to be named for the marine creature by the same name. Operating under the motto “Thoroughbred of the Fleet,” the Sturgeon-class attack submarine served the Navy for more than a quarter century. At the time of her launching in 1968, she was the Navy’s 47th nuclear attack submarine. Throughout her career, she would log an impressive 736,000 miles and make 1,117 dives.
The USS Seahorse was ordered in March 1965 and her keel was laid down in August 1966 at the Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics Corporation in Groton, Connecticut. She was launched on June 15, 1968, and was sponsored by Mrs. Paul Ignatius, wife of the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense and Secretary of the Navy from 1967 to 1969. The ship was commissioned on September 19, 1969 under the leadership of Commander George T. Harper, Jr.
The 4,000-ton Seahorse traveled to a test depth of 1,300 feet and traveled at a speed of 25 knots while submerged. Composing her crew were 108 men – 13 officers and 95 enlisted men.
From shortly after her commissioning in 1969 until she was removed from service more than 25 years later, the USS Seahorse was based out of a home port of Charleston, South Carolina. Following her shakedown cruise in the Caribbean Sea, she reported to her home port and spent much of 1970 engaged in local operations and training in the Atlantic and Caribbean.
The ship’s first major deployment came in November 1970, when she traveled to Bremerhaven, West Germany. She returned to Charleston three months later, where she resumed training and prepared for another extended deployment to the Mediterranean. She departed Charleston on June 21, 1971 and, after a two-week journey, arrived in Rota, Spain. She operated in the Mediterranean until October 1971, receiving her first Meritorious Unit Commendation before returning to her home base.
In January 1972, the Seahorse ran aground and found herself stranded for two hours near Charleston. She broke free, but the incident forced her to return to port for repairs. The next month the ship set off successfully for the North Atlantic – her third major deployment in 14 months. She visited Faslane, Scotland before returning to Charleston on May 11, 1972.
During the summer of 1972, the Seahorse worked in the Atlantic, providing services for air groups and participating in destroyer operations. In September, she set off to take part in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Exercise “Strong Express,” followed by exercises with the United Kingdom, Canada and the Royal Netherlands Navy. She returned to her home port in November 1972.
The Seahorse was again underway in October 1973 – this time on less than one day’s notice – for a deployment to the Mediterranean in support of U.S. forces in the Middle East. She was at sea non-stop until December, with the exception of two stops, each less than one day in duration. Upon returning home in February 1974, the Seahorse entered Charleston Naval Shipyard.
In August 1975, the Seahorse joined with the USS Nimitz and USS South Carolina as a unit of the Navy Nuclear Task Group ’75; the trio made port calls in Germany, England and Scotland. The year 1976 saw the Seahorse sent on deployments to the North Atlantic and Mediterranean. After a lengthy refueling overhaul, the Seahorse deployed again in 1980 to the North Atlantic and Mediterranean for a total of five months.
The Seahorse made a voyage to new territory in October 1981: the Indian Ocean. She logged 46,000 miles in a six-month, around-the-world trip, traversing five of the world’s seven oceans. She returned to Charleston on April 19, 1982, and later that year participated in NATO Anti-Submarine Warfare exercises in the North Atlantic.
In 1985, the Seahorse deployed north of the Arctic Circle; she returned there the following year and surfaced at the North Pole. She later made her second pass through the Panama Canal en route to Bremerton, Washington, where she remained in overhaul at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard from February 1987 to March 1989. She returned to Charleston in June 1989 and resumed location operations. The Seahorse was awarded another Meritorious Unit Commendation for operations in the North Pole in 1991.
The Seahorse continued to make periodic voyages to the North Atlantic and Mediterranean over the coming years, and in January 1993 she was awarded the Battle Efficiency “E” for her work. In her final year of service, she served with the UNITAS XXXV-94, participating in a five-month trip around South America. She returned to Charleston for the last time in December 1994.
On August 25, 1995, the Seahorse was decommissioned at Bremerton, Washington. She was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register the same day. She was scrapped as part of the Nuclear-Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington. Her scrapping was completed September 30, 1996.
One of the Seahorse’s sails can be viewed at a memorial garden at the former Sand Point Naval Air Station near Seattle.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Seahorse (SSN-669)
Like other submarines of her day, the USS Seahorse contained large quantities of a naturally occurring mineral called asbestos, a substance widely used for decades because of its tactile strength and resistance to heat and fire. The Navy found asbestos extremely useful in pipe insulation, boiler and engine parts, gaskets, pumps and fireproof cloth and blankets used aboard its ships. From the 1920s through the 1970s, the Navy ordered shipyards to use the substance in constructing its vessels.
Unfortunately, we now know that asbestos emits a fine dust that, when inhaled, can cause serious health problems. Given the tight quarters and recycled air of the submarine, virtually all sailors and shipyard workers who worked on Navy ships were exposed to this dust in the course of their work. As a result, these individuals are now at risk for a variety of asbestos-related diseases, including emphysema, asbestosis and mesothelioma cancer.
Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer that attacks the mesothelium, a protective lining that covers the internal organs; it can strike in a person’s lungs, abdomen or heart. Unfortunately, diagnosis can be difficult, especially because of the disease’s prolonged latency period – it can take as long as 50 years for symptoms to show. That means veterans who once served aboard the USS Seahorse may have had their health compromised by asbestos and not even be aware of it yet.
Asbestos exposure is the only known cause for mesothelioma; the disease can strike both men and women, though research has shown that cigarette smokers are at an elevated risk. There is no cure for the disease, though treatment options, including chemotherapy and radiation, have shown promise. If you think you may be at risk, peruse our website for more information about the risk factors and treatment options.Sources
USS Seahorse (SSN-669) – History
Wikipedia – USS Seahorse (SSN-669)