SS John Harvey Areas With Asbestos Exposure

The SS John Harvey was a Liberty Ship in the Service of the United States during World War II. The ship was launched by the North Carolina Shipbuilding Company in January 1943. The usage of chemical weapons recently having been approved, the SS John Harvey was loaded with 2000 M47A1 mustard gas bombs at Oran, Algeria heading for Bari, Italy. Because the port was filled with ships waiting to be unloaded, the ship had to wait with the dangerous cargo on board for a few days. Due to unfortunate timing, the ship was still waiting at the docks when German aircraft attacked Bari, on 2 December 1943, resulting in 17 ships sunk and over 1000 human casualties. The SS John Harvey exploded, spilling all the liquid sulfur mustard in the water which soon formed a cloud that spread all over the city. Due to the secrecy of this shipment, only the crew of the ship knew about the nature of this cargo, and with all the crew being lost during the explosion and sinking, no one knew about the danger until a bomb fragment was found and identified in the wreckage. By that time, the lethal chemical had already spread over the city causing 628 military victims to be hospitalized, 83 of them losing their lives by the end of the month. Civilian casualties were suspected to be even greater but an estimate was never released, as most of them left the city to seek shelter as soon as news spread out. Initially, efforts were made to cover up the use of chemical weapons by the Allies and the deaths were attributed to “burns caused by enemy action”, but with so many witnesses, the secret could not be kept and in February 1944, the U.S. Chiefs of Staff admitted to the accident and stated that the United States had no intention of using the chemical agents and it was only kept as a possible form of retaliation.

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