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Media availability in Norfolk, Va., on the USS Cole incident

Presenters: Adm. Robert J. Natter, Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet
October 13, 2000

(Media availability in Norfolk, Va., on the USS Cole incident.)

Staff: Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. I'd like to introduce to you Admiral Robert Natter, the commander in chief of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet. He has a statement for you and then he'll be able to take your questions afterward.

Natter: Good morning -- (brief audio break) -- of the Atlantic Fleet. I would again like to extend our sympathies to the families and loved ones of the crew of USS Cole. Let me start by saying that we've just released to you the names of the dead and the missing aboard Cole. We have already notified the next-of-kin of each and every one of those dead and missing sailors, and those notifications were completed late last night.

We have also notified the next-of-kin of the injured, and those notifications are continuing, and we're continuing to maintain liaison with their families.

In addition, we currently have three personnel in the hospital in Djibouti; 19 personnel are currently in the air being transported to Ramstein Base in Europe. Once the personnel are at Ramstein, we will be working with the hospital there to determine what their next stop would be. If they're well enough to return home, they will do that. If they're well enough to return to duty, they will do that. If others have to remain in Ramstein for further treatment, we will then be working the families, loved ones, for their transportation over to Ramstein to join them.

I would like to state again that this senseless act of apparent terrorism is not one that we will take lightly. We will continue in our service to country in our overseas commitments, as we have in the past, and as the CNO indicated this morning, we will do in the future. We currently have 101 ships forward deployed.

I will tell you that USS Cole is a ship that was built to fight. The ship and its crew fought this tragedy very professionally. I think the power of this ship is indicated by the fact that it has held up so well with this kind of explosion and damage.

And, again, we're working very closely with the crew to continue with their assistance.

With that, I'd like to open it up to any questions.

Q: Admiral, are you going to have them -- tow the ship home? Any decision on how it will get home?

Natter: That decision hasn't been made yet, Jack. We have people on scene assessing the damage and determining the best course of action for returning that ship to duty.

Q: Admiral, is there any possibility that some of the injured that have been taken to Germany could perhaps end up here at Norfolk Naval?

Natter: I think that there's a very good possibility of that. If we have personnel who were injured and once they're at Ramstein, if they're -- have a broken arm or leg, obviously we don't want them returning to the ship. They would probably be transported here, and we should have more information on that in the coming days.

Q: Sir, are all the notifications complete?

Q: The remainder of the crew, will it stay with the ship?

Natter: The remainder of the crew will remain with the ship. We still have a ship that is very capable, and we obviously want to return that ship to full duty as soon as possible.

Q: Sir, are all the notifications complete?

Natter: That's correct. All notifications are complete.

Q: We've heard -- are the missing presumed to be dead, or are you still searching?

Natter: We are not making any presumptions. We are still searching. They are missing.

Q: (Off mike.) How has that been tempered by what's happened?

Natter: Well, first and foremost, I'd like to thank the leadership and the citizens of Tidewater area, Norfolk, Oceana, Virginia Beach, for the outpouring of support for the entire Navy family here. It's very much appreciated. We're going to go forward with a memorial service and a commemoration statue tomorrow with the full support of the officials here, and we hope that that's an appropriate commemoration for these brave sailors who are on the Cole.

Q: Admiral, many of the families want to know when e-mail and communications with the ships in the battle zone will be up again?

Natter: Well, we don't know the answer to that. The ship currently has electricity. A lot of the communications were damaged as a result of the explosion. We have encouraged the sailors to call home at their first opportunity, but obviously their first priority and their first mission is to ensure the safety of the ship and the safety of fellow crewmembers.

Yes, sir.

Q: Could you discuss the efforts to compartmentalize the damage and get -- (off mike)?

Natter: Well, every warship has compartmentation available to it.

Obviously, as soon as this explosion took place, the ship and its crew performed magnificently and secured the rest of the ship. And I don't want to go into the details of the damage because, quite frankly, I don't know them.

Q: Admiral, how soon do you think a decision could be made as to when to move the ship, where to move it? Is that within days or weeks? Is there an effort to try to get that ship out of that hostile community?

Natter: Jack, that decision is going to be made by the local on-scene commander and the unified CINC out there. We have tugs available, U.S. Navy tugs available in the region. We have other repair personnel who are on scene now assessing that, and we'll take the best course of action.

Q: Can you discuss the rescue effort for those remain missing?

Natter: Well, the rescue effort was performed primarily by the rest of the crew. We had medical personnel assigned to the ship; obviously, they performed first aid. Admiral Moore, out in Bahrain, immediately dispatched a medical assistance team, a FAST [Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team] team, for security enhancement, and some ship repair personnel out of Bahrain to help assess the damage.

Q: Is there a way you can describe roughly this group? Were they mostly in the engine room? Are these mostly young service persons?

Natter: I would not want to describe where they were at the time because, honestly, I don't know. I know the region where the explosion took place. We have one officer, and the rest are enlisted, who are dead or missing, and you have the list with you.

Q: Admiral, any plans to bring the rest of the members of the Cole home early?

Natter: No. We have a responsibility to maintain and keep this ship safe, and the crewmembers will do that. We are taking a look and have asked the ship commanding officer for what additional assistance he needs in the way of personnel. We've gotten a list from him, and we will be filling that requirement with volunteers from this area.

Q: You mentioned that 19 of the injured would be going to Ramstein. What about those that lost their lives, will they go to Ramstein and then be brought to Dover or will --

Natter: There are currently 19 in the air headed for Ramstein. There may well, and probably will be additional ones going there after immediate care is prepared for them.

Q: What about those that lost their life; will they be brought to Ramstein or will they --

Natter: Their bodies will be flown back to the United States.

Q: Directly?

Natter: That's my understanding, yes.

Q: And the three that remain hospitalized, were they hospitalized here because of critical injuries and they can't be moved or -- ?

Natter: That's correct. They needed to take immediate medical care of them, and once they're stabilized, the plan would be to fly them to Ramstein as well.

Q: There's 22 injured? Is that the right number?

Natter: No. I will have to get you the exact number. That has grown a little bit this morning because of some additional injuries, but it's --

Staff: The best numbers we have are 35 injured, but that list is changing somewhat. We'll get you the most up-to-date information.

Q: Sir, when you talk about missing, is it presumed that's missing overboard or missing somewhere in the ship that is inaccessible at this moment?

Natter: "Missing" means that they're not located at this point. Once they are located, we will change their status.

Q: I mean, is it a possibility that they are somewhere -- in the words, are there parts of the ship that are inaccessible because of the damage?

Natter: There could be, but I don't want to suppose that. I'm not on-scene, and we will provide the information when it becomes available.

Q: Would you discuss the grief counseling efforts for those on board?

Natter: Yes. We do have facilitators available, and I would anticipate them being en route to provide counseling assistance to the crewmembers. And as you know, we have a lot of that right here for the family members.

Q: And the two other ships that are arriving, have they arrived yet on-scene?

Natter: They were supposed to have arrived at 0700 local, so I assume they have arrived.

Q: What will they be able to offer?

Natter: They will certainly be able to offer assistance with respect to water, food, and assistance in the repair and stability of the ship.

Q: How many of the deceased sailors' families are here in Norfolk, or scattered across the community?

Natter: I don't have an accurate count on that for you. We're meeting with the families at noon today to provide more detailed information. I talked with the chief of Naval Personnel this morning about providing more frequent follow-ups with the families. We'll make that available as soon as we know. But we're not going to jump to conclusions; we're going to tell them the facts as we know them.

Q: Admiral, can you talk at all about heightened security throughout your fleet? I mean, and is it prudent now to go into any port to receive refueling and that sort of thing?

Natter: Yeah. We obviously are taking a close look at that. Port security is a responsibility of the host nation and the port authority. For example, when any foreign warship or foreign cruise ship comes into a United States port, the United States of America is responsible for the security of that port, and that's the case when we go overseas.

Not only the security, but we're also required to gain diplomatic clearance when we go to a foreign country's port, just as they're required to gain diplomatic clearance here. So -- but we're reviewing that.

Q: What sort of security checks are required for those that are assisting the boat in docking?

Natter: That's an issue for the local unified CINC, and it varies from port to port around the world.

Staff: Thank you, ladies and gentleman.

Natter: Thank you very much.

Staff: Any final questions? (No audible reply.) Thank you very much.

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