Sailors Fight to Halt Flooding Aboard Damaged U.S.S. Cole : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

October 15, 2000

Sailors Fight to Halt Flooding Aboard Damaged U.S.S. Cole By JOHN F. BURNS DEN, Yemen, Oct. 15  An investigation into the explosion that hobbled the destroyer Cole, killing 17 American sailors and wounding more than 30 others, was put into abeyance today after a bulkhead collapsed, forcing the remaining crew to undertake emergency repairs to keep the damaged warship afloat.

The bulkhead caved in Saturday night after pumping in an adjacent compartment reduced the level of flooded water to the point where unequal pressure between compartments caused the collapse.

Sailors used a two-way fire hose brought from the mainland to pump the water out, stabilizing the destroyer sufficiently to forestall the possibility of its sinking..

"The crew is tired but they are in very good spirits," Adm. Mark Fitzgerald, the Navy officer commanding the support effort, said at a news conference. The sailors were being rotated out to several support ships for a rest, he said, while sailors from those ships boarded the Cole to stand watch.

The latest setback indicated that the destroyer is not seaworthy enough to be towed to another port for repairs. There is now discussing of bringing in a floating drydock to contain the ship once it can be moved to deeper water

Late today, Navy divers managed to enter the damaged hull and penetrate the collapsed compartment where the bodies of 10 missing sailors are thought to be trapped.

Yemen's president Ali Abdullah Saleh acknowledged today that the explosion on Friday was an act of terrorism, alluding to information apparently gathered by his own government.

The American ambassador to Yemen, Barbara Boudine, who said she had met "a couple of times" with Mr. Saleh since the disaster, told reporters today that the United States was very pleased with Yemen's response.

A team of F.B.I. agents, Navy investigators and other antiterrorist experts arrived Saturday in Aden to hasten the inquiry. Federal investigators looking into what Washington has called a terrorist act said that an analysis had indicated that the attackers used at least 440 pounds of high explosives, and that the hole caused by the blast at the Cole's waterline was about 80 feet wide and perhaps half as deep, far larger than initial reports suggested.

The investigation into the attack on one of the Navy's most sophisticated warships was bolstered with the arrival of a 40-member squad from the federal emergency support team, a Washington-based unit that draws experts from different government agencies. They joined a score of other investigators who flew in earlier from bases in Europe and elsewhere in the Middle East, including the headquarters of the Navy's Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, in the Persian Gulf.

The team is expected to grow to more than 100, including personnel from the Central Intelligence Agency and defense intelligence agencies.

The investigation is focusing on the theory that a team of suicide bombers, possibly belonging to an Islamic terrorist group, attacked the destroyer using the cover of a mooring operation in Aden harbor to dash in among a flotilla of support vessels.

Witnesses have described two men in a motorized rubber dinghy racing to the port side of the Navy ship and standing erect at the moment that the blast occurred.

If confirmed as the work of terrorists, the attack would be one of the most deadly incidents in years, and the worst against Americans in the Middle East since a truck-bombing of a military barracks in Saudi Arabia killed 19 American servicemen and wounded hundreds in June 1996.

In the first account by a witness of the scene aboard the Cole, a senior American diplomat who visited the ship on Friday described the situation 24 hours after the blast as "horrific," with surviving sailors struggling with shock at the loss of their crewmates and trying to keep the ship afloat despite widespread flooding below decks and severe structural damage throughout the ship, even on the upper decks well above the site of the blast.

Although investigators continued to say they have no firm leads on the identity or motive of the attackers, the American official told reporters that the Yemeni authorities had detained an unknown number of people in Aden for questioning, apparently including dock workers and some of the crewmen aboard other small vessels that were helping to service the Cole at the time of the blast.

The official described seeing steel doors and hatches buckled off their hinges, and parts of the ship's superstructure twisted by the force of the explosion.

"The damage seemed to extend throughout the ship," the official said at an onshore briefing that was held on condition that the official not be identified. The official said crewmen, while showing signs of grieving over lost shipmates, were working round the clock.

"They're very focused on saving the ship, but in their faces you can see that they just lost 17 of their friends, and there are elements of shell shock as well," the official said.

The official added: "These are professionals. They are observing a personal loss, but their first responsibility is toward the ship."

A interfaith memorial service for the dead sailors was held aboard the ship this morning, attended by all crew members not assigned to emergency duties.

The official offered no new details of the explosion, other than saying that the small vessel believed to have set off the blast was "some sort of Yemeni boat that approached the ship when it as already at anchor" and that "it was not suspicious to the point where anybody took any notice of it."

Navy officials have said the ship and crew were at the second highest degree of alert observed in the Fifth Fleet, stationed in Persian Gulf, with crew members assigned to watch boats approaching the Cole through binoculars and others with weapons keeping watch.

The official, who was among those responsible for monitoring the safety of the refueling stops made by United States warships here since the stopovers were approved in late 1998, said the explosion that killed the sailors "may not necessarily have been a lapse in security." The official added, "Unfortunately, you sometimes learn lessons in the most tragic ways, and there will definitely be lessons learned from this."

Although the official did not elaborate, the suggestion that there had been no breach of security appeared to indicate that investigators believe that the attackers may have infiltrated the onshore Yemeni organizations responsible for assisting in refueling and re-supplying the ship. One account circulating here has been that the Cole's crew believed the rubber dinghy that apparently carried the explosives to be one of the boats assigned to the help the United States ship moor, refuel and remove garbage and other waste.

As the destroyer sat listing in Aden's inner harbor today, under blazing 100-degree heat, the Pentagon announced new measures suggesting that it remained concerned about conditions aboard the ship, and possibly about further terrorist attacks.

The announcement said the Fifth Fleet had ordered two other ships, the frigate Hawes and the destroyer Donald Cook, to join the Cole in Aden as soon as possible "so the crews of the new ships can help do some of the work that's required to keep the ship afloat and to deal with the damage to the hull," said Kenneth H. Bacon, a Pentagon spokesmen.

Throughout the night and into the day Yemeni patrol boats could be seen in the harbor, and a British frigate, the Marlborough, remained moored alongside the Cole in what British and American officials said was a move by the Royal Navy to assist the American destroyer and the surviving members of its 293-member crew.

Reporters' requests to visit the Cole continued to be deferred. The Navy said it wanted no distractions from the investigation, which included diving operations below the Cole's waterline and down to the harbor floor to determine the extent of the damage to the ship and to search for the remains, if any, of the 10 sailors listed as dead but still missing.

The bodies of five of the seven crew members who were found after the blast have been flown aboard a military plane to Dover, Del., after being transferred first from Aden to Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

Today, 39 wounded shipmates from the Cole flew from the United States Army Regional Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany. on their way back to their home base in Norfolk, Va. Six more seriously injured sailors remained hospitalized in Germany.

On Saturday, the Navy announced that in addition to the 33 crew members originally listed as wounded, six of those evacuated on Friday to Landstuhl were suffering from what Lt. Terrence Dudley, a Navy spokesman, described as "post-traumatic stress."

Many of the crew members remaining aboard the Cole have been sleeping under awnings stretched across the upper decks after the blast filled many of the vessel's compartments and its engine room with water, rendering the ship's engines unusable and stripping the vessel of air-conditioning. Large shipments of bottled water flown from Bahrain, as well as emergency food supplies, were shuttled out to the ship by tenders.

There seemed little doubt that the billion-dollar warship was severely damaged. Lieutenant Dudley said that much of the recovery crew's effort had gone into pumping water out of flooded compartments, and to investigating ways of patching the hole caused by the blast, part of which was below the waterline.

That would enable sailors to get the ship to dockside, in Aden or elsewhere, where more extensive repairs could be made that would allow the Cole to be towed back to its home port of Norfolk, Va.

Officials in Washington said on Friday that they had no firm leads on which group might have carried out the attack. American officials in Aden stressed the thoroughness of the investigation here. The team that arrived this weekend from Washington will remain in Aden "as long as it takes," Lieutenant Dudley said.

Navy spokesmen say all their evidence shows that the blast, which they say occurred at 9:30 a.m. local time on Thursday (2:30 a.m. Eastern time), happened when the unidentified rubber boat maneuvered between other support vessels assisting the Cole with mooring, refueling and garbage removal operations, and raced to the Cole's port side.

Despite Mr. Saleh's initial suggestion that the blast was an accident, he has been at pains to promise that Yemen will cooperate with the investigation and "hunt down" the perpetrators if terrorist involvement is proved. American officials here say he has abided by that promise, offering all the help requested, and waiving Yemeni laws and regulations to allow large numbers of American military and intelligence officials to operate with few restrictions.

The cooperation has extended to allowing a 40-man Marine antiterrorist squad deployed from Bahrain to patrol inside a government-owned harborside hotel where most of the American team members are staying, wearing desert-style camouflage uniforms and carrying automatic rifles. The marines also act as bodyguards for investigators shuttling to the harborside.

President Saleh has issued statements harshly condemning Israel for its attacks on Palestinians in the last two weeks and directed government officials to help organize public demonstrations that have featured denunciations of Jews and Americans, including one in Aden on Tuesday that drew 50,000 people.

-- Martin Thompson (, October 15, 2000


A Sneak Attack NEWSWEEK October 23 issue From the bridge of the destroyer USS Cole, the flyblown port of Aden must have seemed an innocuous if somewhat exotic place, a sprawl of scruffy buildings and wharves nestled in a basin of volcanic hills. Schooners and dhows, cargo vessels and warships have been docking along Yemens craggy southern coast for centuries, en route between Europe and Asia.

COLE CMDR. KIRK LIPPOLD had little reason to think his port call last Thursday would be much different. He was planning to tether to a buoy for just a few hours, long enough to gas and go, before pressing on toward the Persian Gulf. His ship was at Threat Condition Bravo, the second lowest level of four defense postures. Lippold had not been notified of a specific threat, and had no particular reason to think hed come under attack. Nobody aboard the Cole, certainly, was expecting to die in the 95-degree heat of that shimmering new day.

To them, the Cole was a despicable symbol of American power and prestige.

The two sailors aboard a 20-foot fiberglass vessel puttering nearby, however, probably had very specific plans to die. To them, the Cole was a despicable symbol of American power and prestige. According to the assessment of U.S. intelligence analysts, the men or their sponsors probably knew the Coles layout and capabilities, information that is available on the Internet. They surely knew that it was outfitted with some of the most sophisticated weapons and sensors in the U.S. arsenal. At the press of a few buttons, the Coles officers can launch a variety of missiles to hit aircraft, surface vessels, submarines and land targets. What it lacks is an effective countermeasure for two seemingly friendly seamen aboard what appeared to be a harbor tender. At about 9:45 a.m., according to fleet officers, as the smaller boat glided along the destroyers port side, the two men apparently detonated an enormous load of explosives. At first, some people [onshore] thought it was an earthquake, says Hisham Bashraheel, an editor at the Al-Ayyam newspaper in Aden. The explosion tore a 40-by-40-foot hole through the half-inch steel of the Coles outer hull, and burst through an engine room, the mess deck, chiefs mess and galley. The torrent of steel, water and flame killed 17 American sailors and wounded at least 33 others. It was the most lethal attack against the U.S. military since 1996, when a truck bomb killed 19 American servicemen near Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

The Aden attack instantly broadened the conflict in the Middle East to a new level of strike and counterstrike. Palestinian rioters, Lebanese guerrillas and Israeli soldiers were no longer the only combatants. Now international or Yemeni terrorists had drawn the United States directly into the violence. The urge to hit back was immediate. We will find out who was responsible and hold them accountable, President Bill Clinton warned last week, even as he was trying desperately to persuade Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to hold fire. The attack on the Cole raised questions about a U.S. intelligence failure, and further complicated Washingtons self-professed role as an honest broker in the Middle East at a time when American diplomacy in the region was already under assault. It also reminded Americans, in the most painful of ways, that global power comes at a price, and that conflicts of the future may look significantly different from those of the past. October 14, 2000 The pain is especially deep for the families of two USS Cole crewmembers who, until just a few years ago, would not have been in harms way because they were women. Their stories from NBCs Hillary Lane.

The first impulse by Washington after the explosion was to contain the damage, both military and political. Commander Lippold, a well-liked officer who, back at the Naval Academy, made a habit of getting up early to run along a sea wall in combat boots, oversaw an extraordinary damage-control effort. But he had made the most important decision hours earlier, as the ship was entering harbor, when he ordered all below decks hatches closed and dogged. If he hadnt done that, naval experts say, the blast likely would have sunk the Cole. As the destroyer took on water and listed four degrees to port, emergency calls quickly dominoed along the chain of command. Within a short time, national-security adviser Sandy Berger woke up the president, who was celebrating his wedding anniversary at his home in Chappaqua, N.Y. Several hours later, Clinton was still seething but also wary of overreacting. How ironic, he remarked to aides, that Americans would now have to experience some of the same anger, frustration and powerlessness felt by those in the Mideast. It was absolutely horrifying.  SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL

Aboard the Cole, after the sailors had contained the crisis, they had time to assess the damage. It was absolutely horrifying, said a senior U.S. official who boarded the vessel. Theyre very focused on saving the ship and getting that part of it done, but in their faces you can see they just lost 17 of their friends, and theres an element of shell shock as well. Washington promised retaliation, but against whom? Terror groups increasingly recognize that little frustrates the proudly rational, scientific West more than a foe that cannot easily be measured, quantified and targeted. They often attempt to cover their tracks or muddle their identity. That said, scores of U.S. intelligence analysts last week were sifting and evaluating clues. Theyve long known that terror groups were targeting American naval vessels in the region. Over the last two years, U.S. intelligence has foiled at least two terrorist plots directed at U.S. Navy ships visiting ports in the area, authoritative U.S. sources told NEWSWEEK. Its been a cat-and-mouse game, said one American official. In this round of mouse-chasing, FBI and CIA agents will need Yemens cooperation to find out how the perpetrators penetrated Aden port operations. In particular, agents will want to get a look at video from four surveillance cameras around the port areatapes that were seized last week by Yemens secret police, according to a source familiar with activities at Adens port. They might also like to talk to some of the many port workers and relatives detained by Yemeni police last week. was time to take action against this iniquitous and faithless force [the United States] which has spread troops through Egypt, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.  ONE OF OSAMA BIN LADEN'S LIEUTENANTS Several terrorist outfits, including the Al Qaeda organization led by Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, have specifically vowed to strike at U.S. military targets in the Arabian Peninsula. Just two weeks ago a satellite TV station in the Emirate of Qatar broadcast a video in which bin Laden himself, flanked by two Egyptian lieutenants, made veiled threats against the United States. Looking thin, his formerly dark beard turning gray, bin Laden was shown meeting a group of Islamists and promising to work with all our power to free militants held prisoner in the United States, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. One of bin Ladens lieutenants said it was time to take action against this iniquitous and faithless force [the United States] which has spread troops through Egypt, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Some analysts, in the wake of the attack on the Cole, took special note of the reference to Yemen. October 13, 2000 NBCs Pat Dawson reports that US troops are on a heightened alert with weapons at the ready in Yemen.

American officials have long been aware that Muslim extremists operate in Yemen. Its a bad, bad place, says one former CIA agent who worked there. Bin Ladens family has roots in Yemen, and his organization has ties to militants there. A shadowy homegrown outfit called the Aden-Abyan Islamic Army, which opposes the use of Yemeni ports by Western vessels, claimed responsibility for the attack last week. Such claims are often suspect: terrorists share resources and use different identities to suit their needs. In this case, American investigators believe locals could have executed the operation with outside help from someone like bin Laden. But among a long list of possible other culprits were Iraq, Yemeni Marxists and the Lebanese fundamentalist group Hizbullah. The nature of the attack suggests, in any case, that the bombers had very good intelligence and sophisticated logistics. The U.S. Under Attack

Why, under the circumstances, had a U.S. Navy ship stopped in Aden at all? Washington has been trying to improve ties with Yemen to draw it out of the orbit of radical Arab countries like Iraq. In April, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh visited Washington and met with President Clinton, as well as CIA Director George Tenet. When the CIA chief told Saleh that Washington had hard evidence that Yemen was a haven for terrorist networks, Saleh said he was willing to cooperate, but didnt believe that terrorists operated in his country, according to sources privy to the meeting. Last week it was more of the same: Saleh offered cooperation while insisting that the explosion must have been an accident.

In the weeks ahead, policymakers will weigh the available evidence to determine whether it justifies a counterattack. The last time the United States engaged in high-profile retaliation following the bombings of two American embassies in Africa in 1998one of the targets for U.S. missiles was a pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum, Sudan. Administration officials later conceded that some of the information they had on the plantthat it was producing chemical- weapons materials at the time of the strike and the plant was financed by bin Ladenwas incorrect. Retaliation this time may not be so impulsive as it was then, not least of all because the Middle East is already aflame with rage and revenge.

-- Martin Thompson (, October 15, 2000.

They say this is one of the most sophisticated ships in the U.S. Navy, but nowhere do I find an explanation of this. I thought it was just another destroyer.

-- Chance (, October 15, 2000.

Chance asks: "I thought this was just another destroyer..."

This type of U.S. Navy ship has come a *very* long way since the WW2 "tin cans" were rolled out in large numbers to provide anti-sub escort capability using relatively crude technology (crude compared to today's electronics). Forget the old action movies. Modern ships like the U.S.S. Cole are BILLION dollar vessels stuffed full of offensive weaponry and cutting edge electronics (well, let's not get into the use of Windows and other COTS software!). For a terse run- down on the Cole, see Jane's online: .shtml

Basically, this is not your father's Chevrolet.

What's impressive is the amount of damage done by a relatively small load --a few hundred pounds-- of explosives admittedly at close appears the damage to the hull itself (not to mention the crew) is only the "tip of the 'berg" so to speak. I wonder how well the computers and other electronics "upstairs" are working after the blast? Sounds like the Cole is damn near a total loss!

--Andre in southcentral Pennsylvania

-- Andre Weltman (, October 16, 2000.

---------------------------------------------------------------------- ---------- U.S. ship running low makes fateful Yemen fuel stop

Aden (Reuters) - The explosion that killed 17 U.S. sailors aboard a destroyer in the port of Aden had an impact akin to that of a sea- skimming missile, according to senior U.S. officials. "This was not just your normal car bombing," said one official. "This was pretty well conceived." The USS Cole was down to half a tank of gas and sailors in the mess were making lunch as the warship sailed into Yemen's steamy port of Aden to refuel. A harbour pilot boat and a handful of other vessels gathered around one of the world's most sophisticated guided missile destroyers to help it into the moorings. But one of the small vessels had a different agenda.

Forensic experts have yet to determine what kind of craft the vessel was because as it drew close, two men stood up and set off a massive explosion that blasted a gaping hole in the warship, killing the 17 sailors and turning the small boat into "confetti-size pieces".

Senior U.S. government officials, who gave an account on Sunday of the last moments before Thursday's blast, said the crew then had a fight on their hands to stop flooding spreading through the ship.

One said the explosion had the impact of something akin to a sea skimming missile, buckling decks and ripping through the strengthened steel superstructure. The bombers had defied the port's security and undermined careful U.S. assessment aimed at ensuring Yemen's southern port was safe as a U.S. Navy refuelling site.

U.S. warships previously refuelled in nearby Djibouti, but Yemen managed to secure the contract from mid-1998 as it sought to re- establish Aden in its historical role as a shipping hub and boost ties with the United States.

Relations were strained during the 1991 Gulf War when Yemen was seen to support Iraq, but since then the United States has become a key aid donor, even if Washington has said the poor Arab state's shaky control over parts of the country makes it a "safe haven for terrorist groups".

But a second senior official said security was a priority in the decision to make Aden a refuelling dump. "The contract reflects a political relationship, but it was not done for political reasons," the official told reporters. "If we did not think it was a safe place, we would not bring a ship in."

About 25 U.S. ships have made the stop. Like the gas turbine-driven USS Cole, many would have had half empty fuel tanks and were looking to replace lost ballast, after sailing from the Mediterranean through the Red Sea and before heading to the Gulf, where the U.S. Fifth Fleet is based.

But on Thursday the U.S. Navy came up against determined attackers. "If you have somebody who truly, truly wants to do this, it is very hard to stop them," the second official said, adding that Yemen now accepted the bombing was an attack and would announce that shortly.

Yemen has so far said it did not believe the explosion was deliberate, but has pledged it would spare no effort to search out the perpetrators if it was proved so. The officials said U.S. investigators were starting to sift through the wreck for clues, but the priority was for specialist teams to retrieve missing bodies, two of which are visible in the mangled metal but out of reach.

The ship will then go to the United States for repairs, possibly aboard a floating dock. The blast ripped a 40-foot (12-metre) long hole near a ship's mess, making a patch-up job to sail it back unlikely, the officials said.

They added there would now be a "moratorium" on further refuelling stops in Yemen. But one of the officials said given Yemen's cooperation so far there was "no reason to believe it will be a major problem to bilateral relations".

-- Martin Thompson (, October 16, 2000.

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