Named after a sea animal with leathery skin and a tough, muscular body that clings to the sea floor, the USS Trepang (SSN-674) was a nuclear-powered fast attack submarine that served the U.S. Navy for three decades from 1969 to 1999. The Sturgeon-class submarine’s deployments took her as far as the Arctic, the Mediterranean and on travels throughout the Atlantic Ocean.
The USS Trepang was ordered in July 1966, with the contract awarded to the Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics Corporation in Groton, Connecticut. Her keel was laid down in October 1967, and she was launched nearly two years later in September 1969. She was sponsored by Mrs. Melvin R. Laird, the wife of a politician and writer who served as President Richard Nixon’s Secretary of Defense.
The Trepang was commissioned on August 14, 1970 under Commander Dean R. Sackett, Jr. With a length of just over 292 feet, she weighed nearly 4,000 tons light and was propelled by a S5W nuclear reactor. She carried 14 officers and 95 enlisted men.
Operating out of her home port of New London, Connecticut, one of the Trepang’s earliest voyages was in 1971 to the Arctic Sea. She spent months submerged beneath the polar ice cap, testing weapons systems and also researching the movement, composition and geological history of the ice cap. Later that year, she travelled to the Caribbean Sea to complete weapons systems tests and evaluation trials in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Trepang also spent a good deal of time deployed in the North Atlantic Ocean; by 1972, she had already deployed to that region twice.
The year 1973 saw the Trepang sent on a six-month deployment with the United States Sixth Fleet to the Mediterranean Sea. In October of that same year, she took part in a special operation in connection with the Yom Kippur War in the Middle East. In 1974, the Trepang’s home port was briefly changed to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, as she received an overhaul in that naval station. However, she was returned to New London again in 1975 after spending much of that year assigned to Submarine Squadron 10 carrying out crew training and recertification.
Another Mediterranean deployment followed in 1976, followed by participation in training and proficiency inspections. In 1978, the submarine took part in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Exercise “Safepass” and participated in a special Chief of Naval Operations project. Three years in drydock followed, as the Trepang received an extensive overhaul at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. She was then transferred to Charleston, South Carolina – and on the way, passed under the infamous 1991 hurricane that became known as the “Perfect Storm.”
The Trepang continued to take part in drill missions and deployed again to the Mediterranean, where she took part in NATO operations near Bosnia-Herzegovina. On the expedition, she also became the first U.S. sub to perform peacetime operations with a German submarine. The two worked together to secretly follow a drug-smuggling ship. In 1997, the Trepang went on her last deployment to the Mediterranean, and she spent late 1998 circling the globe to use up as much nuclear fuel as possible before she was removed from service.
The USS Trepang was decommissioned in June 1999 in Bremerton, Washington, and she was stricken from the Naval Vehicle Register the same day. She was scrapped as part of the Nuclear-Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program, a process that was completed in April 2000.
Asbestos Risk on USS Trepang (SSN-674)
One of the silent dangers aboard U.S. Navy vessels for much of the 20th century was a mineral called asbestos. Starting in the late 1800s, asbestos was frequently used in building materials and insulation – including aboard submarines. In fact, the Navy required shipbuilders to use various types of asbestos aboard all its ships to help safeguard against the threat of fire.
Unfortunately, asbestos created another threat – lung cancer and other diseases. While it was not commonly known at the time, exposure to asbestos can seriously impair a person’s lung functions and lead to incurable diseases like asbestosis and mesothelioma cancer. The public was not completely aware of these dangers until the 1970s, when – faced with a huge amount of evidence that asbestos caused lung disease – the federal government took steps to ban the use of the mineral in nearly all applications.
By that point, however, countless individuals had been exposed. Virtually anyone who worked aboard a Navy submarine was guaranteed to come into contact with asbestos; not only was the mineral used in nearly all parts of the ship, from mechanical rooms to living quarters, but the extremely close quarters and recycled air supply of submarines made it impossible to escape exposure to toxic asbestos dust. People who worked in shipyards, where submarines were built, repaired and scrapped, were also at a tremendous risk.
Many veterans who served aboard submarines like the USS Trepang are just realizing today that their health has been compromised by their time of service; this is because it can take from 20 to 50 years for symptoms of mesothelioma to appear in the human body.Sources
Wikipedia – USS Trepang (USS-674)
NavSource Online – USS Trepang (USS-674)