- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 15, 2000

Sentries on the USS Cole did not carry loaded weapons during the ill-fated refueling in Yemen Oct. 12 under common shipboard safety precautions, Pentagon officials said yesterday.
The sources said sailors typically carry weapons and ammunition separately because the pitches and rolls of a ship can cause a gun to go off accidentally.
In the case of the destroyer Cole, they said, the question is moot. No evidence has surfaced that anyone on the Cole suspected that terrorists were on the boat that pulled alongside during a refueling stop in Yemen.
Explosives on the boat were detonated, ripping a 40-by-40-foot hole in the ship's side. The blast killed 17 sailors and the two suicide bombers.
The officials were responding to a report in The Washington Post yesterday that said sentries carried ammo and guns separately.
"It would be perfectly commonplace in the Navy that they don't load ammo in the chamber until they are prepared to use it," said a Pentagon official, who asked not to be named. "Why? Because ships are inherently dangerous places. This is not at all unusual. The difference between a clip in the hand and a clip in the weapon is a couple of seconds. There's no indication this was relevant. No one perceived a reason to be loading a magazine in the weapon."
Said another military source, "They really don't want to provoke an incident by firing on a boat that may be harmless."
Retired Navy Capt. Larry Sequist, who commanded Navy surface ships, said it was his practice to have sentries with loaded weapons during port calls, especially in potentially dangerous countries.
"The petty officer of the watch would have a loaded .45," he said. "A military sentry would be armed. The clip would be in the weapon. My inclination in a circumstance like that, anybody who was on watch would have the clip or magazine installed."
The Navy began making refueling stops in Yemen last year as part of a plan to improve relations with the once-reclusive regime. The most recent State Department report on international terrorism says Yemen is a "safe haven" for various terrorist organizations that operate in the country's remote areas.
The 5th Fleet in the Persian Gulf has appointed an officer to investigate the conduct of the Cole's commander and his crew in the days before, during and after the blast. Issues include whether the commander followed the ship's force protection plan and whether the crew received adequate anti-terrorism training.
"You always find things that were not followed to a T," said the Pentagon official.
Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has questioned why the Cole did not deploy small boats as a perimeter guard during refueling in the port of Aden.
Kenneth Bacon, the Pentagon's chief spokesman, declined yesterday to discuss the Cole's protection procedures.
"As you know, we have a number of inquiries under way right now … looking specifically at measures that could be taken to improve fleet security," he said.

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