Relaunching of USS Cole provides Navy a patriotic lift

`Determined warrior' afloat, repairs nearly done

Terrorism Strikes America

September 16, 2001|By KNIGHT/RIDDER TRIBUNE

PASCAGOULA, Miss. - Under the protection of night, the Navy launched the USS Cole on Friday at Northrop Grumman Ingalls shipbuilding, a day earlier than announced.

The relaunching of the Cole, under repair after being damaged in a terrorist attack a little more than 11 months ago, was planned for yesterday morning. The Navy secretly launched the ship for security reasons after the terrorist attacks on the East Coast. Only Navy sailors and officers, Ingalls employees and other security personnel were there to watch the ship float on its own for the first time since last year.

"I was just tickled pink to see that thing back in the water again," said Mike Zitko, public affairs officer with the Navy supervisor of shipbuilding office.

"It was like the ship was saying, `You may have wounded me, but I'm the determined warrior, and I'll be coming back bigger and better than I ever was.' She's being upgraded and refitted, and is probably going to be the top warship we have as a destroyer. I hate to see them go back in harm's way. But that's what they're there for."

The launch started about 2 a.m. and was completed six hours later. Then, freshly painted and proud, the Cole was pushed by a tugboat to Pier 3, where repairs will be completed. "It was very patriotic, with sailors standing on other ships docked at Ingalls, saluting and cheering," Zitko said.

The Cole was bombed in Yemen on Oct. 12, 2000, killing 17 American sailors. Restoration of the Cole started in March, after the ship's return to the United States.

"Work to date aboard the USS Cole has consisted of over 550 tons of steel structural repairs to replace the damaged area and the exterior plating," said Capt. Philip N. Johnson, Navy supervisor of shipbuilding, in Pascagoula. "The relaunching of the Cole represents the completion of all structural repairs and restoration."

Work to be finished includes the component system assemblies, powering up the machinery, and testing and aligning all systems.

"Having the right team allowed us to complete repairs in an expeditious manner, and will allow Cole's return for duty to her home port and with the fleet by April 2002," Johnson said.

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