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Boat Hits USS Cole, Explodes in Yemen Port; 4 Sailors Killed

Aired October 12, 2000 - 11:48 a.m. ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We continue our coverage here at CNN, both of the situation that's taking place in the Mideast, and right now we're focusing on the situation with the USS Cole, the Navy destroyer that was attacked earlier today in the Gulf of Aden. The Navy, the Pentagon now saying that, most probably that was a terrorist attack.

That destroyer had gone into port to refuel and, in the process of doing that, a smaller boat hit it and exploded and, as we know now, four sailors have been killed. About 12 to 15 are still missing, and about 30 sailors aboard the USS Cole have been injured and are getting treatment at this time.

Right now we want to bring in Adm. Rocky Spane, U.S. Navy, retired; I believe you're joining us on the phone, sir?

ADM. ROCKY SPANE (RET.), U.S. NAVY: Yes I am. Good morning.

KAGAN: First, can you explain to us why this boat would have to be going into port anyway?

SPANE: Well, of course I don't really know, from the news reports, what the situation was; but it's not uncommon, as the ships transit the Suez Canals -- as they go around Aden, to stop in for fuel as -- I think this was a very short stop, probably unannounced for just a few hours to get fuel. That would be so that, as the ship enters the Persian Gulf it can come right up on-line and be a fully operational ship.

KAGAN: And for those who aren't as familiar with naval procedures as of you are, what's the difference between an unannounced and an announced visit?

SPANE: Well, announced visits happen, the announcement goes into the city or the port, as much as several weeks or months, even before the ships arrive. Usually, those are longer visits, in which the crews allowed to go on shore on liberty. major provisioning is happening. And these unannounced visits occur for a variety of reasons, but certainly one of them is security.

KAGAN: And the fact that this would be unannounced makes it all the more disturbing, doesn't it, because it means that there was some breach in security, that somebody apparently knew that this ship was going to be in place refueling. SPANE: Well, certainly, I can't formally comment on that, but I will tell you it's not uncommon for ships to go into port thinking that no one knew they were going to arrive, and many people do. I mean, that's kind of the way it works in a lot of different places all over the world.

KAGAN: And what about security in general? If you were still at sea, on a ship, would you be concerned, given today's events?

SPANE: Certainly, and I have not been listening to all of the speakers this morning, but the Navy does do training in terrorists attacks, just like this, at least we used to when I was in the Navy, and I don't think it's changed, and certainly as tensions heated up in the Mideast, I'm sure they were on heightened alert coming through the Suez Canal and as they went into that port.

KAGAN: Retired U.S. Naval admiral Rocky Spane. Sir, thank you for joining us today, appreciate it -- Bill.

Daryn, also by telephone now is Harry Skip Brandon out of Toronto, Canada. He's a former FBI official serving 23 years in the FBI, also a former member of the U.S. Navy, serving six years with the U.S. naval troops.

Sir, can you can hear me OK.


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Go ahead and chime in on what you're hearing in your reaction to the slip coming into port in Yemen, and the resulting incident that we've been describing now for the past two hours.

BRANDON: Well, obviously, it's a real tragedy, I think the thing that it does bring home to all of us is that unfortunately, the Americans now are targets abroad.

HEMMER: Can you explain to us, sir, and again, we were speaking with Brent Scowcroft about this issue, how a U.S. destroyer can go into an international port knowing there has been a threat in the past in this country itself and not having proper security in the port to help that ship break harbor?

BRANDON: Yes, that's a tough question. I think there has been in very recent past, obviously, a certain feeling that unannounced visits give you a level of security, because you just pop in and pop out. It seemed to me that what becomes increasingly obvious to all is that the harbor craft or the tender that was ready to go was loaded with explosives and just looking for the first target of opportunity that came in.

HEMMER: Why not refuel at sea?

BRANDON: You can, if you have the refueling ships at sea, and if they're there, and if the fuel is available. Apparently, the navy using local fueling ports. That may have to change. HEMMER: And again, in the port of Aden, how common is it for the U.S. navy to use this particular site. We know that the geography is quite extensive coming through the Suez Canal and down to the Red Sea, an en route to the Persian Gulf, further east. How common is it to stop at Aden.

BRANDON: You know, quite frankly, I just don't know the answer there. It's been a long time since I was in the Navy, and I know for quite a while, I think Yemen was somewhat off limits for our ships, so it's probably a fairly recent occurrence.

HEMMER: Former U.S. Navy, Harry Skip Brandon, former FBI officials, 23 years, by telephone in Toronto.

All right, now back to Washington with more of Frank Sesno -- Frank.

FRANK SESNO, CNN ANCHOR: Bill, thanks a lot. We're on the phone now with Lieutenant Commander Daren Pelkie, is the U.S. fifth fleet, based in Bahrain.

Commander, can you hear me?


SESNO: I hope you're there. All right, thank you.

Can you tell us what additional information you may have for us at this time as to what took place.

PELKIE: Just that the ship is secure, the flooding was taken care of, and the ship is secure now. Our top priority rate now is to get medical personnel, U.S. Navy medical personnel, from Bahrain to Aden to assist in the care of our personnel down there. And secondary is an additional -- we're trying to get information back to the families so that they can know about their service members.

SESNO: Can you Tell us about the medical personnel, how many people we're talking about, and are they already on route, one presumes?

PELKIE: We've launched a plane about an hour ago with 15 people on board, and we're sending down two more planes.

SESNO: I'm sorry, and is that going to be the full deployment for medical personnel? Will that take care of the injured? And can you give us any more indication how many have been killed and injured?

PELKIE: That's the additional personnel that we are able to send tonight. We will send more as required. The current numbers I have are four dead, 36 injured and 12 reported missing.

SESNO: Commander Pelkie, can you tell us what precautions are being taken, both around the USS Cole, and other military assets at sea or in port so that they're secure going forward here? PELKIE: Well, I can't comment on any specific type of protection we're taking other than to say that we always operate at a high-level of protection, and that we are at increased state at this point in time.

SESNO: And is there any indication that there's any progress in being made toward determining who is responsible for this, to the best of your knowledge?

PELKIE: Not at this point in time.

SESNO: You talked about trying to get information rapidly to families. There may be some family members of those aboard that ship watching and listening to us right now. What more you can tell us about that and the amount of time that will be involved in getting that information?

PELKIE: The information will be passed as quickly as possible back directly to the Bureau of Naval Personnel in Tennessee. They have a 1-800 number set up for them to call as the information becomes available, and just let them know we are doing our best to get the medical personnel down their to help the injured, who were taken to the hospitals in Aden.

SESNO: Lt. Commander Daren Pelkie, we appreciate your time very much in the middle of a fast-developing situation and one that is disturbing, obviously, as well.



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