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Investigation Continues into USS Cole Bombing

Aired October 15, 2000 - 2:18 p.m. ET


GENE RANDALL, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Gene Randall in Washington.

We are going to take you to Yemen to the port of Aden for the latest on the investigation into the attack on the Navy destroyer Cole last week in the port of Aden.

BARBARA BOUDINE, U.S. AMBASSADOR: OK. OK. Are you getting audio now?


BOUDINE: Anyway, again, thank you all for coming here tonight -- really appreciate you coming by. I will make some brief remarks. The admiral will. And then we will take a few questions.

We are in now day four of the U.S. response to the USS Cole explosion. I wanted to say that the United States government is very pleased with the cooperation that we have been receiving from the government of Yemen. President Ali Abdullah Saleh has given his personal support and commitment to our efforts. And we are very, very grateful.

Our primary and most immediate goal is to address the problems of the ship itself and her crew. We are making progress. Many of the specialists needed to address the ship's problems are already in- country and have begun work. The FBI team is also in-country to begin it investigations. It will take some time before any results can be achieved and -- or are anticipated. We are, again, very closely with the government of Yemen on this. Another key responsibility in Yemen at this time in this region in general is the personal security of all of our citizens. And again, we would like to thank Yemen for their help.

I believe that Admiral Fitzgerald would like to share some of his views as well.


I am Admiral Mark Fitzgerald. I'm the commander of Task Force Determined Response, which is the task force set up to support the return of the USS Cole. As most of you know, Cole was attacked on the 14th. And heroic efforts were undertaken by the crew of the Cole, by Yemen, France, Britain and every U.S. military service. Yemen made medical personnel available -- and emergency services -- provided immediate care for our sailors and saved several lives. France was the first out-of-country responder and provided a C-160 Transall aircraft with three medical teams, and airlifted 11 critically injured crewmembers to Djibouti. The HMS Marlborough was en route home and she diverted her transit and returned to provide food and medicine for the crew.

Every U.S. military service provided immediate aid and support to our effort. These efforts saved the lives of many of the Cole sailors, and also saved their ship. I would like to tell you quickly, Task Force Determined Response currently consists of the USS Hawes, a frigate, the USS Donald Cook, which is the sister ship of Cole, and the USS Camden, which is an AOE. And there is also various security and logistics personnel here.

I visited Cole today. She -- last night, we had been pumping out several of her compartments of water. She suffered a casualty last night and one of the bulkheads collapsed. And we spent the day today repairing her. And I am happy to report that we have dewatered those compartments, and that she is out there and doing well and stabilized.

Her crew has done a magnificent job. Their efforts have been truly heroic. The crew is tired, but they are in very good spirits. And tonight, we are rotating them out to the three ships that I've mentioned before. And those sailors from those ships are manning the watch on Cole.

All the crew has had an opportunity to call home. We are providing logistic support to the ship while she is being repaired. We have also brought out a special intervention response team to provide help with dealing with this tragedy for the crew. Once again, I would like to emphasize the terrific job that has been done by the CO and by the ship's crew, and that they have truly been heroes in my eyes.

We can take some questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go ahead and take some questions. QUESTION: Ambassador -- Ambassador, do you have -- do you want to comment on the two claims of responsibility, what the U.S. position on those is, if you believe those people are actually responsible, and if not, are there any real hard pleas at this point?

BOUDINE: I don't think it would be appropriate at this time to really make any comments on either some of the claims that have been made or what we know in terms of the investigation. We are in the a preliminary stage. That's obviously a very key question. But it is much too early to comment on either claims that have been made, their validity, their credibility. We simply don't know at this point.

QUESTION: Ambassador, do you -- do you have any inclination, any indication through any of your intelligence that you can talk about that this port was not quite as safe as you thought it might be?


QUESTION: What was -- what was your assessment of the level of safety, level of risk in the port?

BOUDINE: We, obviously, in coordination with the Navy, determined that it was safe to bring ships into this port. Security is something that we monitor all of the time. If we had had specific and credible information to the contrary, the ship would not have come in. It is just that simple.

QUESTION: Are any more ships coming in now?

BOUDINE: There is not currently any plans for a ship to come in.

QUESTION: Is there a moratorium on these (OFF-MIKE)

BOUDINE: I would just say that there is no plans on having ships come in at this time.

QUESTION: Ambassador, on the investigation, were there any security cameras recording at the time of the explosion, and if so, did they show any -- did they catch anything that might be regarded as evidence?

BOUDINE: Again, I think that it would be very inappropriate to comment on the nature or the sources of the investigation at this time. We are at a very preliminary stage. And I don't want to either prejudge or jeopardize the integrity of that investigation by making those kinds of comments.


QUESTION: Ambassador, have you been informed that -- can you confirm that some Yemenise have been arrested in connection with the...

BOUDINE: I think that is a question you need to address to the Yemeni government, not to us.

QUESTION: Admiral, this emergency that you had last night with the collapsing bulkhead, how serious a risk was posed to the ship and can you comment on the crew's reaction to it?

FITZGERALD: Obviously, any time you have water coming into a ship, it's a serious situation. The crew was monitoring the water levels. They picked it up very quickly and responded. The ship was not in danger of sinking. However, we were are -- obviously, any time you have flooding in a ship, you run the risk of progressive flooding. The crew responded immediately, stopped the flooding, stabilized the ship.

And, as I said today, we got it patched and pumped out.


QUESTION: I would like to know what informations you have from our Yemeni president, Abdullah Saleh, during this meeting this morning.

BOUDINE: Again, I don't think it would be appropriate at this time to get into the details of that. I have had a couple of meetings with the president. I have had several phone calls with him. In all cases, he has been not only pledging his support, but helping to provide it and arrange what we need. But getting into specifics of information that has been discussed or may be discussed would be entirely inappropriate at this stage.

QUESTION: Admiral, when you boarded the ship for the first time and looked around, what was your reaction? And what did you think as far as the task of keeping that ship afloat shortly after it was hit by the bomb?

FITZGERALD: I alluded it -- to it in my comments. I would say it was a heroic effort, in that the ship has suffered a tremendous blow. There is severe buckling in the ship. But the crew responded very quickly to the catastrophe. They have performed the procedures as they have been trained. And they stopped the flooding. And, as a I said, they saved the ship.

I won't tell you here that the ship was going to sink or not sink. But there was considerable damage to the ship and put the ship in jeopardy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One more question, folks.

QUESTION: Ambassador, is it now universally accepted on the part of all governments concerned that this was an external, even a terrorist attack?

BOUDINE: Certainly, an external terrorist attack, and most probably a terrorist attack.

QUESTION: Is that the U.S. position? Is it also the Yemeni position?

BOUDINE: It is -- I think, again, this is going to be a question of fact, you know, that all the evidence does point very clearly that the explosion came outside the ship. Now, exactly who was behind it, what their motivation was, and how they were able to arrange it, that we can't speculate on. But certainly, the explosion did come from outside the ship.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes the brief. Thank you very much.

BOUDINE: Thank you.

FITZGERALD: Thank you.

RANDALL: U.S. Ambassador Barbara Boudine in Yemen, saying there is close cooperation now between U.S. officials who are investigating the explosion aboard the Navy destroyer Cole and the Yemeni government. Also, U.S. officials today unequivocally are saying this was an act of terrorism. CNN's military affairs correspondent Jamie McIntyre has been listening to all this at the Pentagon.

Jamie, any headline in what you just watched?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, you heard the admiral there, who is the commander of Operation Determined Response, which is the name they have given the effort to save the ship, essentially.

He basically told us that this -- the crew is still fighting for the ship. They had an incident last night in which a bulkhead collapsed -- more flooding that was handled by pumping out some of the water from the ship. But this ship is still gravely wounded. And the Navy is now working out plans to try to figure out how to save it. They are considering contracting with a huge heavy transport ship operated by a Norwegian company call the Blue Marlin.

This ship has the ability to actually sink under the water and then lift up underneath a ship. Here we see an illustration of how it is used, for instance, to move a heavy oil platform. The ship can actually lower itself into the water, and then, in this case, you see an oil platform moved out on top of it. But in the case of the USS Cole, the plan would be the -- actually put the warship right on top of this 700-foot heavy-lift vessel, and try to bring it back to Norfolk for permanent repairs.

But that, in itself, is a pretty tricky engineering feat. And the company is not sure that it can pull it off. The Navy, right now, is trying to develop a plan to do that and bring the ship back. Other than that, the investigation is in the very preliminary stages. They don't have any conclusion at this time.

And they don't have any indication whether any of the various claims of responsibility have any credence to them -- this, of course, while the wounded sailors who are wounded -- and there's 33 of them -- are arriving in Norfolk today to be to be reunited with their families. And six of them that are very seriously wounded are staying in Landstuhl, Germany, where their families are being flown there to reunite with them as well -- Gene.

RANDALL: And, Jamie, we should certainly not be surprised that no further refueling stops are scheduled for U.S. vessels in Aden.

MCINTYRE: Yes, but you notice they did not say that there is a moratorium or a policy. They are going to wait until they finish this investigation. One of the ironic things about this was, despite all the talk of security, is one of the reasons U.S. ships went -- began refueling in Yemen was simply -- was out of security concerns.

The Yemeni government actually constructed some facilities to make sure the ships could refuel offshore, not have to actually come into the pier. There is less boat traffic in this port than, for instance, in Djibouti, where ships have stopped before. And the U.S. Navy did not want to have its ships refueling in the same port all the time, because that gives the terrorists an idea of where the ships are going to be. So, ironically, there were some security reasons of why Yemen was picked as a place to start refueling the ships. But until they figure out what happened and whether security was compromised at the port, or whether there was some lapse in U.S. security, there will not be any more refueling stops there.

RANDALL: Jamie, thanks very much.

And so, the latest on the explosion on the USS Cole, the Navy destroyer, in the port of Aden in Yemen last week -- U.S. officials today saying unequivocally that was an act of terror.

I am Gene Randall in Washington.



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