The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - The USS Cole, the destroyer heavily damaged by a terrorist bomb while refueling in a Yemeni port Oct. 12, is due to arrive back in U.S. waters next week, the Navy's top officer said yesterday.
The crippled Cole, which lost 17 sailors in the attack, has been in transit from the Middle East since early November aboard a Norwegian-owned heavy lift ship. It will be off-loaded at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., for repairs that are expected to take one year and cost roughly $240 million.
A small boat maneuvered close to the Cole while it was refueling in Aden harbor and detonated a bomb that blew a hole in the ship's hull 40 feet wide and 40 feet high. Yemeni and American law enforcement authorities are still investigating the attack, for which no credible claim of responsibility has been made.
Adm. Vern Clark, the chief of naval operations, told reporters that he could not comment on the ongoing investigations, which include an internal Navy probe focusing on whether the Cole's captain took the required self-protection measures prior to entering Aden harbor for what was supposed to be a four-hour stop.
A separate investigation, by an outside panel appointed by Defense Secretary William Cohen, is reviewing whether the U.S. military as a whole can take steps to improve the way it protects and supports U.S. forces abroad.
Clark said the Navy investigation's preliminary results are expected to be forwarded in the next few days from the U.S. Fifth Fleet commander in Bahrain, Vice Adm. Charles W. Moore, Jr., to the commander of U.S. Atlantic Command in Norfolk, Va., Adm. Robert Natter. Because it ultimately will come to Clark for review, "it would be totally inappropriate" to comment on the specifics of the investigation, he said.
Clark said one of the toughest issues raised by the Cole attack is how the Navy can better improve the security of its ships in foreign ports without violating the sovereign interests of host nations.
To illustrate his point, the four-star admiral postulated a circumstance in which a foreign ship entered an American port and established its own security perimeter with armed guards that prohibited U.S. vessels from moving about.
"How long would we tolerate that?" he asked. "About four seconds. We can't go do that in other people's countries, either."