The Navy announced Thursday that the USS Cole, the target of a 2000 al-Qaeda terrorist attack in Yemen that killed 17 sailors, is heading to Key West this weekend.
The USS Cole is expected to port at Naval Air Station Key West's Outer Mole Pier at the Truman Waterfront for a regular port visit to give the crew a few days liberty and see Key West, said Naval Air Station Key West spokeswoman Trice Denny.
How many days the USS Cole will be in town, and whether it will be arriving Saturday or Sunday, is still being decided. Ultimately, that is up the boat's commanding officer, Cmdr. Dennis Farrell, Denny said. The USS Cole was still under way at sea on Thursday.
"I think the biggest takeaway from the USS Cole visit is that she is still operating and protecting our nation -- a terror attack could not defeat her," said NAS Key West commanding officer Capt. Steve McAlearney. "She serves as an ambassador for our nation. Every day she sails she honors the lives of the 17 sailors who died that day, and she is a testament to the capabilities of the sailors that kept her afloat. It's a powerful message to terrorists."
The public will not be allowed to enter the Outer Mole Pier, and there will be security from the water as well, keeping boaters from getting too close. The best pictures will be from the Truman Waterfront near the Coast Guard Ingham museum, or from Fort Zachary Taylor State Park for pictures of its arrival, Denny said.
The Navy does not discuss specific security measures.
"It's important to remember the USS Cole is a warship," Denny said.
The 505-foot USS Cole is a Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer that made headlines when it was struck by suicide bombers who detonated a small boat full of explosives on the ship's portside while it was refueling at anchor on Oct. 12, 2000.
The blast ripped a hole 40 feet wide in the ship near the galley just as sailors were lining up for lunch, according to published media reports and the Navy.
There were 39 sailors injured in addition to those killed. There are about 280 crew on the USS Cole, according to Navy reports.
Now dead and former al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden released videos to the media praising the terrorists after the attack. The event would foreshadow the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, that would occur less than a year later.
The ship, which is homeported in Norfolk, Va., was repaired and went back into service in 2003 with its first overseas deployment to the Arctic Ocean in November of that year.
It's first deployment back to the Middle East since the bombing came in 2006, which included the port of Aden. It returned to Virginia without incident.
The USS Cole has multiple weapons systems, notably it has the ability to launch Tomahawk cruise missiles as well as the newer Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System, which allows the USS Cole to shoot down enemy ballistic missiles.