Was asbestos used in construction of famous steamships

Not open for further replies.
Dec 12, 1999
Does anyone know if asbestos was used in the construction of Titanic, Olympic, Lusitania, Majestic, Aquitania, Queen Mary, Rotterdam, and other ships? If so, except for Titanic and Lusitania, did employees file claims against the steamship companies for injuries? I recently learned that the United States Lines, Inc., which filed for bankruptcy protection on Nov. 24, 1986, had 18,000 asbestos-related claims filed against them, by some 12,000 employees who sailed on the Line's fleet over four decades. Does anyone know if the S.S. United States (which still exists and is docked in Philadelphia) was one of the U.S. Line's abestos-infested ships? These claims are still being liquidated in the Southern District of New York, before Federal Bankruptcy Judge Francis Conrad.

William Conrad


Asbestos was certainly around when all of these liners were constructed, although it's cancer causing effects have only been realised quite recently.

In 1800 asbestos was introduced for the first time into America by Industry. In 1900 the first medically diagnosed death from asbestosis occurred in Great Britain. In 1930 the relationship between asbestos exposure and asbestosis was confirmed for the first time. In 1935 American and British research indicated a link between asbestos exposure and lung cancer. In 1955 the association between asbestos exposure and cancer was finally confirmed.

As you can see, many of these liners were built while the industry was completely ignorant of it's harmful effects. Even when this was discovered, asbestos was still used anyway. The properties of asbestos would be quite useful in liners with coal furnaces. I don't know for certain, but with this in mind, I expect it probably was used...

Mike Herbold

Dec 13, 1999
Asbestos was used for industrial gaskets, packing, and brake material as recently as 20 years ago. It is naturally heat resistant, and industry has had difficulty finding adequate replacement materials. I personally think its danger is greatly exaggerated and that the fiberglass fibers used in insulation and in body work are even more dangerous to the lungs.
Dec 12, 1999
Thanks for the feedback, guys. I wonder if any of the steamship companies became, like U.S. Lines, embroiled in asbestos litigation. Mike, next time you attend a Titanic group meeting on the Queen Mary, see if asbestos warning signs are posted. I'm just curious.

Rob Ottmers

Jul 21, 1997
Hi Joe,

Asbestos removal was part of the reason the "United States'" interiors were completely gutted. She had been taken to Turkey for reconditioning, however, I believe the actual asbestos removal was done in Russia.
Jan 7, 2002
Im certain that I have read an account of a past RMSTi dive that suggested that asbestos was seen inside the Titanic wreck on past dives....Anyone know if such was seen on the Cameron dive?


tarn Stephanos
May 8, 2001
To "Joe Shomi". Boy this is an old thread. To the best of my knowledge, there are no warning signs on the Queen Mary. I am afraid that if environmental regulations caught wind of asbestos they would make certain it was stripped. There are several train museums in California that have succombed to such regulations.

Noel F. Jones

May 14, 2002
My understanding is that asbestos insulation in situ is not dangerous. Exposure would come during engine/boiler room repairs/maintenance etc.

The principal dangers nowadays are to shipbreakers, particularly in 'third world' operations like Gadani Beach in Pakistan.

The old shipbreaking site at Faslane on the Clyde is, I believe, heavily contaminated.

Was browsing through old threads and came across this one.

Just to add a personal touch to this, my Grandfather passed away from emphysema. He worked for John Brown Shipyard in Glasgow and when he was diagnosed with the disease they that felt certain that it was related to his work on the liners. He was a very small man, and as a plumber he was squeezed into a lot of spacing that would have been teeming with asbestos.

Perhaps what is most sad is that he died when I was only five years old. I often imagine the two of us pouring over my ocean liner books as he tells me stories from the shipyard. I like to think that at least he smiles in heaven that his granddaughter is a ocean liner buff.
Not open for further replies.

Similar threads

Similar threads