The second US naval ship to be named for the tunny—any of a variety of fish found in warm ocean waters akin to the mackerel—USS Tunny (SSN-682) was the 34th Sturgeon-class nuclear-powered attack submarine to be constructed. In commission for 24 years, she was recognized as a deep diving vessel with a vast range and superb striking power.
The Ingalls Shipbuilding Division of Litton Industries, located in Pascagoula, Mississippi, was granted the contract to build Tunny on June 25, 1968. Her keel was laid down at this site nearly two years later on May 22, 1970. Her launch took place on June 10, 1972 with Mrs. Lola Aiken—wife of US Senator George Aiken (Vermont)—serving as her sponsor at the ceremony. Upon her commissioning on January 26, 1974, Commander Dennis Y. Sloan took charge of Tunny’s crew who numbered 110.
Equipped with four 21-inch torpedo tubes and a wide array of weaponry, including Mark 48 torpedoes, UGM-84A/C Harpoon missiles, Tomahawk cruise missiles, UUM-44A SUBROC missiles, and naval mines, Tunny measured 302 feet in length and was capable of reaching speeds of up to 25 knots when submerged. She possessed a depth limit of 1,300 feet and a submerged displacement of 4,640 tons.
Once commissioned, Tunny and her crew spent two weeks at the submarine base in Groton, Connecticut carrying out training exercises prior to departing for shakedown training in the West Indies and along the United States East Coast from March through June of 1974. After a brief stint in Charleston (June-August 1974) for a series of operations, Tunny traveled to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine for a post-shakedown overhaul. With her overhaul completed by October 5, 1974, Tunny returned to Charleston for normal operations.
March 6, 1975 marked Tunny’s departure for her initial deployment to the Mediterranean. As a member of the United States Sixth Fleet, her primary activity during this tour of duty was her participation in antisubmarine warfare exercises. Prior to her return to Charleston and the completion of her deployment in August of 1975, Tunny transitioned to the United States Atlantic Fleet Submarine Force.
Tunny’s schedule from January of 1976 through the end of 1977 was mainly occupied by attack submarine training, special operations, exercises in naval mine warfare, a Mediterranean deployment, further antisubmarine warfare training, a period of repairs, and refresher training.
Tunny spent the first two months of 1978 preparing for a deployment in the North Atlantic Ocean which commenced in late February. This deployment, which concluded in late April of the same year, brought Tunny to Portland, England and Dunoon, Scotland.
In July of 1978 Tunny was reassigned to a new homeport—Pearl Harbor, Hawaii—where she arrived on August 19, 1978 after a journey in which she transited the Panama Canal and crossed the equator. As a member of Submarine Squadron 1, Tunny spent the rest of the year conducting local operations in the Hawaiian Islands as a means of preparing her for a Western Pacific deployment in early 1979.
Tunny departed for the Western Pacific in February of 1979. This four-month deployment included stops in the ports of Amphoe Sattahip in Thailand and Orote Point in Guam. Upon conclusion of this deployment, Tunny entered the naval shipyard in Pearl Harbor in August of 1979 where she remained until December of 1980 undergoing a regular overhaul in addition to the installation of advanced sonar and fire control systems and electronic support measures (ESMs).
Following her return from an eastern Pacific deployment in 1981, Tunny embarked on a series of five Western Pacific deployments over the course of the next few years. These deployments, which lasted from December of 1981 through November of 1986, would earn her a Meritorious Unit Commendation and a Navy Unit Commendation.
Two deployments to the Northern Pacific in 1987 preceded Tunny’s reassignment to a new homeport of Bremerton, Washington in March of 1988. At this new homeport, Tunny underwent a 22-month refueling overhaul at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Upon completion of this overhaul, she was once again assigned to return to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii where she arrived in June of 1990.
A further series of Western Pacific deployments ensued for Tunny in the following years beginning in August of 1990. During this time she was the recipient of three Submarine Squadron One Battle Efficiency “E” awards and one Meritorious Unit Commendation. March of 1977 marked the completion of her final deployment to the Western Pacific.
Decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on the same day—March 13, 1998—USS Tunny’s scrapping was completed via the US Navy’s Nuclear-Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program in Bremerton, Washington by October 27, 1998.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Tunny (SSN-682)
The United States shipbuilding industry has paved the way over the years for the development of state of the art navy vessels employed in the defense of our country. Unfortunately, this same industry is also partially responsible for numerous cases of disease all caused by one naturally-occurring mineral that was used in large quantity in the construction and maintenance of ships from the 1930s through the 1970s: asbestos.
Asbestos, once proclaimed to be a miracle product, was praised for its accessibility, relatively low-cost, and superior ability to function in environments where there was a need for a material that could withstand extremely high-temperatures and guard against the dangers of fire. The US Navy was so impressed with asbestos, that she mandated its use in as many as 300 products (e.g., insulation materials, valves, gaskets, cables, and adhesives) utilized in the construction and maintenance of ships. Asbestos could be found in virtually every area of a ship, from centers of operations such as boiler and navigation rooms, to centers of living, such as mess halls and sleeping quarters. Navy veterans and shipyard workers were literally immersed in asbestos.
Intact, asbestos was resilient against heat and fire. However, once disturbed or worn down by age, its friable fibers became released into the surrounding atmosphere posing a potential health-risk to all those who crossed its path. Research has determined that airborne asbestos fibers that are inhaled by humans become attached to the inner linings of the lungs in addition to surrounding membranes. As a result, over time, the accumulation of these fibers leads to scarring, inflammation, and the onset of one of several illnesses including, but not limited to, asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma.
Estimates show that nearly 10,000 deaths occur each year in the United States as a result of an asbestos-related disease. In most cases, due to the extended latency period of these illnesses which range from 15 to 50 years, individuals are not aware of the potentially fatal conditions they are at risk for until symptoms present years after the occurrence of initial exposure.
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