This paper presents results obtained from a laboratory investigation conducted on material from a pressure vessel after longterm operation in the oil refinery industry. The tested material contained structural defects which arose from improper heat treatment during steel plate manufacturing. Complex tensile tests with acoustic emission signal recording were conducted on both notched and unnotched specimens. The detailed analysis of different acoustic emission criteria allowed as to detect each stage of plastic deformation and microstructural damage processes after a long-term operation, and unused carbon steels during quasi-static axial tension testing. The acoustic emission activity, generated in the typical stages of material deformation, was correlated by microscopy observations during the tensile test. The results are to be used as the basis for new algorithms for the assessment of the structural condition of in-service pressure equipment.