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3 Warships Head to Yemen to Bolster Investigative Team

October 17, 2000|BOB DROGIN and DAVID KELLY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Sailors battled until early Sunday, often without electric power, to try to bail out flooded compartments. At one point, they used firefighting equipment to fashion a pumping system. At other times, they resorted to using buckets.

"The latest is, the ship has regained power and all the flooding has been contained," the White House official said.

Among those detained by Yemeni authorities was Ahmed al Mansoob, general manager of the Al Mansoob Commercial Group in Aden. Mansoob's firm has a contract to haul away garbage and provide food and other supplies to the Cole and other visiting U.S. combat ships.

Mansoob was released Monday after two days of questioning. Two crew members of the garbage barge assigned to the Cole were also questioned and released.

Abdullah al Khalqi, the marketing manager for the firm, said none of the company's 35 employees had been screened for past criminal or terrorist activities.

"We believe their word," said Khalqi, who noted that the company also provides contract services to British, German, French and Polish ships.

"The Naval Regional Contracting Center in Bahrain reads us its logistical requirements," he said. "When a ship enters the port, usually two patrol boats stay alongside it while berthing. All the garbage pickup ships have a registration. There is a number and a name."

Khalqi said the Cole didn't request any provisions Thursday but was scheduled to have its trash picked up.

"The day of the blast, everything was perfectly normal. They didn't request anything," he said. "We took the trash because that is compulsory."

The explosion rocked the firm's offices and shattered its windows. Khalqi said it reminded him of a battle during one of Yemen's numerous civil wars when the narrow street behind the building was hit by three missiles in succession.

"But this explosion had a different voice," he said. "I never heard a sound like that before."

Before contracting with Mansoob, the Navy sent a team to visit the company's whitewashed headquarters near the port. The firm is the only one in Yemen registered with the International Ship Suppliers Assn. in London, which sets standards for the industry, Khalqi said.

Most of its employees are relatives of the owner, Khalqi said, adding that he knew of none who would be considered extremists or who spent time fighting in Afghanistan, as many Yemeni militants did.

Khalqi said he did not believe anyone from his company would have bombed the Cole.

"We have been promoting the port for five years, and one of the factors we use to promote it is to say [that] the American Navy comes there," he said. "It gives it an appearance as a safe place."

Drogin reported from Washington and Kelly from Aden.

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