USS Sand Lance (SSN-660)

The USS Sand Lance (SSN-660) was the second U.S. Navy ship named for a slender-bodied, eel-shaped fish found in oceans throughout the world. The Sturgeon-class nuclear-powered attack submarine served the Navy for nearly three decades during the Cold War and the
United States’ involvements in the Persian Gulf.


Portsmouth Naval Shipyard at Kittery, Maine was awarded the contract to build the Sand Lance on October 24, 1963, and her keel was laid down there just over a year later, on January 15, 1965. She was launched on November 11, 1969, sponsored by Mrs. Thomas J. McIntyre, the wife of a U.S. senator from New Hampshire. The submarine was commissioned on September 25, 1971, with Commander William A. Kennington in command.

Like most Sturgeon-class submarines, the Sand Lance measured 292 feet in length and weighed more than 4,000 tons light. She was powered by one S5W nuclear reactor, two steam turbines and one screw, and was equipped with four torpedo tubes that could fire a variety of types of weaponry. She carried a complement of 107 – 12 officers and 95 enlisted men.

Naval History

The Sand Lance was built on the coast of New Hampshire, but her home port was changed to Charleston, South Carolina on the day of her commissioning in September 1971. She operated out of the Charleston area until the spring of 1973, when she stood out for special operations twice in the course of a few months. Later that year, she journeyed to Faslane Naval Base in Scotland and traveled to the Mediterranean Sea to monitor shipping through the Straits of Gibraltar during a conflict known as the “Yom Kippur War.”

Commander Robert L. Bovey assumed command of the Sand Lance in early 1974; his first order of business was leading the submarine through sonar evaluations off the coast of Charleston. Additional weapons testing followed for MK48, SUBROC and CAPTOR systems. The ship traveled again to the Mediterranean from September 1974 to March 1975, and received an overhaul at Norfolk Naval Shipyard for much of 1975 and 1976. She transited through the Panama Canal in 1979 and 1981.

The Sand Lance continued to make periodic deployments to the Mediterranean Sea throughout the 1980s, and in 1984 the crew was awarded with the Secretary of the Navy’s Meritorious Unit Commendation. In 1989, the ship reported for an overhaul to Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine.

An incident in 1994 nearly ended the Sand Lance’s career. She was moored ahead of one of her sister ships, the USS Grayling (SSN-646), at her home port of Charleston when her engine room flooded, nearly causing her to sink. The incident was caused when a main valve was being removed for maintenance.

In 1995, the Sand Lance was assigned to a new home port of Groton, Connecticut, where she joined Submarine Squadron 2. The following year, she departed her new home port for a patrol of the Arctic Circle, during which she surfaced through the polar ice cap at the North Pole. The maneuver, which occurred on July 12, 1995, earned her another SECNAV Letter of Commendation, a Realm of the Arctic Circle Certificate and the Domain of the Golden Dragon Certificate. In December 1997, the Sand Lance embarked on a UNITAS XXXVIII Deployment, which would be her last.

Twenty-seven years after her commissioning ceremony, the Sand Lance was decommissioned on August 7, 1998 and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register the same day. She was scrapped through the Nuclear-Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington. Scrapping began April 1, 1998 and was completed August 30, 1999.

Asbestos Risk on the USS Sand Lance (SSN-660)

Beneath the floors of the USS Sand Lance, wrapped around pipes that ran through her walls, and even in fireproof blankets that kept sailors warm could be found a naturally occurring substance called asbestos. Starting in the early 1920s, the U.S. Navy required shipyards to construct their submarines using asbestos, a mineral extracted from mines in Canada and Africa and shipped to the United States for use as a fireproofing and strengthening agent.

Asbestos was meant to keep sailors safe, protecting them from the threat of fire inside the close quarters of a Cold War-era submarine. But in the long run, the mineral actually posed an enormous health threat. Exposure to asbestos, we now know, can cause a variety of diseases, including emphysema, asbestosis and mesothelioma cancer – debilitating diseases for which there are no known cures.

Thousands of sailors and shipyard workers have been put at risk of developing an asbestos-related disease simply by spending time aboard a Navy submarine. Exposure to asbestos generally occurred when asbestos-laden materials were installed, repaired, replaced, or when they aged and cracked. Therefore, individuals who worked with asbestos insulation or other products in the mechanical areas of a ship were at the greatest risk. However, because of the extremely limited ventilation aboard submarines, virtually everyone who spent time inside the vessels was likely exposed.

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