Merchant Mariners need to be aware of possible asbestos exposure

Although easily overlooked during peacetime, the Merchant Marine is pivotal to the United States' economical well-being and security. This fleet of civilian-owned U.S. vessels is not only responsible for transporting everyday goods and cargo, but during wartime this Naval auxiliary - often dubbed the "fourth arm of defense" - is responsible for transporting vital military supplies and troops.

The importance of the Merchant Marine is even further illustrated by the fact that roughly 85 percent of 77 strategic commodities critical to U.S. defense and industry are imported into the United States, according to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.

Unfortunately, serving in the Merchant Marine can but quite dangerous during wartime - they had one of the highest estimated casualty rates during World War II - but sadly, many Merchant Mariners are now realizing that peacetime service may also have deadly consequences in the form of asbestos-related illnesses.

Merchant Mariners and asbestos

Although not as common in manufacturing today, asbestos was once regularly used in manufacturing - including shipbuilding - because of its ability to insulate well and resist heat. Unfortunately for Merchant Mariners, asbestos could be found throughout ships, including insulation used around:

  • Boilers
  • Furnaces
  • Pipes
  • Wires
  • Pumps

Despite being built decades ago, many ships - not to mention their boilers - are still operating today, meaning many current Merchant Mariners continue to risk every day exposure to asbestos. In addition, those who worked in the building or maintenance of these ships may be in danger of being exposed to this hazardous material.

To further complicate issues, some asbestos-related illnesses, such as mesothelioma, may not present themselves until 40 years after asbestos exposure - meaning Mariners may still be at risk of developing mesothelioma even years after they have retired and their ships scrapped.

Fortunately for Merchant Mariners who served during World War II, a bill was signed into law in the 1980s that made them veterans, which means they are eligible for veterans' benefits. However, those Mariners now suffering from asbestos-related illnesses may still have other remedies available if they do not qualify for veterans' benefits, namely a personal injury lawsuit against the shipbuilding company or product manufacturers. In addition, families of Merchant Marines who have already passed away from complications stemming from asbestos exposure may be able to initiate a wrongful death suit.

The law surrounding asbestos exposure and liability can be very different depending on your circumstances, which is why it is always best to speak with an experienced mesothelioma attorney if you have suffered as a result of asbestos exposure.