Saturday, October 28, 2000

Salvage ship due to begin process
of getting Cole back to States

By Keith Boydston
Stars and Stripes

The USS Cole could begin its journey from Yemen to the States this weekend when a heavy lift ship arrives to carry the crippled destroyer home.

The Blue Marlin, an off-shore heavy transport ship, will carry the billion-dollar destroyer on its deck.

The monthlong multimillion dollar journey back to the United States — its final port has not yet been determined — will leave the warship out of commission for months.

Navy officials declined to speculate on how long it would take to repair the damaged destroyer — which has a 40-by-40-foot hole in its hull.

Two weeks ago a suspected terrorist’s bomb ripped through the Cole during a refueling stop in the Yemeni port of Aden. The attack left 17 sailors dead and another 39 injured.

U.S. authorities are still investigating.

The Norwegian-owned commercial salvage ship was scheduled to arrive in Yemen on Saturday to begin loading the damaged destroyer.

The Blue Marlin is designed to ferry offshore drilling rigs, but Navy officials are confident it can safely carry the Cole, said Navy Capt. Dan Wise, the 6th Fleet maintenance officer assigned to Task Force 63 in Naples, Italy.

The job of loading the 505-foot Cole and securing it to the deck of the 584-foot Blue Marlin could take up to a week.

But first the Cole must be towed from the shallow port where it has been moored since the attack.

The Blue Marlin can only load the Cole in water at least 75 feet deep because it must lower its main deck below the surface of the sea.

It submerges its deck by using ballast tanks similar to a submarine’s. Once the deck is underwater, the 8,300-ton Aegis-class destroyer will be moved over it.

The Cole will be carefully placed in a set of blocks welded to the Blue Marlin’s deck. This will help stabilize the Cole during passage. Navy divers will be in the water to ensure the ship is properly positioned in the blocks. Then the Blue Marlin will raise its main deck above the surface of the sea.

"Basically it’s a huge flat-bed truck with a bow," Wise said. "Think of it like putting a big load on the back of a pickup truck."

But because of the Cole’s size, shape and weight, the Blue Marlin will have to carefully pack its cargo.

"It’s a big challenge because the Cole is so large and because of the complex design of the hull," said Jan Foss, vice president of engineering for the company that owns the Blue Marlin. "It’s the most difficult cargo we’ve had to load because it’s very difficult to support and secure.

"The Cole will be positioned on the deck at an angle because of its large sonar dome that hangs under the bow," added Foss. "And a hole will have to be cut in the [Blue Marlin’s] deck to accommodate the Cole’s two large propellers."

The loading process should take about a day, Foss said, but once the destroyer is raised from the sea, it could take another week to secure the ship to the salvage vessel’s deck.

Wood and steel support beams will then be attached to the destroyer’s hull and welded to the Blue Marlin’s deck for extra stability in case of heavy weather on the transit back.

While Navy officials knew they had to move the Cole to repair it, they were not sure how they were going to do that at first.

"There’s very limited repair capabilities and options in Yemen," said Navy Capt. Bill Landay, the deputy for Fleet Support for Theater Surface Combatants in Washington, D.C. "To take [the Cole] to a [commercial] shipyard in theater we would have had to make some type of repairs or tow her there. The Blue Marlin affords us the option of having to do neither."

The Blue Marlin had just delivered two U.S. minesweepers from Texas to Bahrain.

"It was very convenient for us that the ship [Blue Marlin] was in the Arabian Gulf," Wise said. "It was available for charter and was capable of making the lift."

The Cole’s sea-going taxi will cost the Navy about $4.5 million and will take about 25 days to deliver it to the States, Navy officials said.

A complement of sailors and security personnel, and a repair assessment team will travel on the Blue Marlin, Landay said.

The repair team will include equipment and structural experts that will make an in-depth damage assessment, he said.

Navy officials declined to comment on what other ships would escort the Cole back to the States, citing security concerns.

But the Navy has not determined where the Cole’s crew of more than 300 sailors will go.

"The Navy is still working on a plan on what to do with the crew," said Lt. Jane Alexander, a Navy spokesperson in the Pentagon. "Nothing has been finalized yet."

And a decision has yet to be made on where the Cole will go for repairs or how long it will take, Landay said. Though the Navy is asking Congress for about $150 million to repair the Cole.

"The damage is much worse than you might think," Wise said. "The damage is very substantial."