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U.S.S. Coral Sea (CV 43)

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U.S.S. Coral Sea CV 43 (Aircraft Carrier)

Coral Sea, named for the World War II sea battle which was the first in history in which the contending fleets never were in sight of each other, was a Midway class aircraft carrier which served the United States through five decades. Conventionally powered, Coral Sea was built by Newport News shipbuilding and commissioned into service in 1947.

Operations in the Atlantic occupied the ship’s first decade, with flight operations in the Caribbean, along the American east coast, and in the Mediterranean. Coral Sea participated in NATO exercises, conducted training for carrier pilots and reservists, and made port visits to allied nations.

In 1957 the ship transited to the Pacific, arriving at Bremerton for overhaul and modernization. The extensive overhaul, including a new flight deck to accommodate the aircraft developed since the ship’s design, took more than two years, and Coral Sea did not return to service until 1960, when the ship commenced its first western Pacific tour.

Following the Gulf of Tonkin incident, Midway deployed to Vietnam and launched air attacks against North Vietnamese and Viet Cong positions. Coral Sea would continue to make deployments to Vietnam through 1975, its aircraft participating in the mining of Haiphong Harbor late in the war as a ploy to encourage good faith negotiations.

After the war, Coral Sea provided air cover for the operation to recover the Mayaguez, an American freighter illegally seized by Cambodian forces of the Communist Khmer Rouge.

In the late 1970s Coral Sea was present off the coast of Iran during the Iranian Revolution, which led to the overthrow and flight of the Shah. After the Iranians seized the US embassy and took 63 hostages, Coral Sea provided air surveillance support for the aborted rescue mission the following April.

In the early 1980s Coral Sea appeared as the recovery carrier in the film of Tom Wolfe’s “The Right Stuff”.

In 1983, Coral Sea returned to the Atlantic by steaming around the world, a cruise that took six months. Returning to routine operations in the Atlantic and with Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean, Midway was present during the tensions with Libya in 1986. When US bombers struck Libyan targets in retaliation for Libyan support of terrorist attacks which led to the deaths of US servicemen, Coral Sea launched aircraft in support.

Coral Sea was decommissioned in 1990 and eventually, after years of legal wrangling over environmental issues, scrapped. The largest ship ever scrapped at the time, it took nearly three years.

Asbestos Exposure on U.S.S. Coral Sea

Coral Sea, built beginning in 1943, and in service 46 years later, revealed much evidence of the Navy’s and their contractors’ use of asbestos aboard ships. The ship, like all conventionally powered ships, contained asbestos lined boilers, and asbestos insulation throughout the ship, as well as gaskets, fireproofing, and many other components.

During the scrapping of Coral Sea, tons of asbestos insulation was removed from the ship. Workers found asbestos in virtually every compartment and its removal significantly impeded the ability of the shipbreaker to complete the scrapping process. Workers reported to the Baltimore Sun that asbestos insulation could be made to fall in pieces to the deck simply by knocking on the pipes with a wrench. One worker reported a fine dust like snow lying everywhere, another said the air was cloudy with asbestos dust.

In one of the lawsuits, it was said the Navy had deliberately misled the contractor about the amount of asbestos on board Coral Sea and its condition.

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