Friday, October 20, 2000

Navy adds pier security
following attack on USS Cole

By Steve Liewer
Yokosuka bureau chief

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The Navy’s 7th Fleet has tightened security on piers at Far East bases since the Oct. 12 bombing of the Navy destroyer USS Cole in Yemen that killed 17 sailors.

The Commander-in-Chief Pacific Fleet ordered all Pacific Navy bases — including those in the western United States and Hawaii — to increase security to at least Threatcon Alpha Plus, according to a Navy spokesman.

Earlier this week, 7th Fleet began posting a guard at the heads of piers where ships are docked at Yokosuka and Sasebo Naval Base, Japan. Anyone walking out onto the pier must show identification. Previously, anyone with permission to be on the base could walk on the pier, although an ID card was, and still is, required to board a ship.

In Sasebo, drivers are being asked to state their business. Pierside parking has been eliminated.

Spokesmen for the 7th Fleet were not available to comment Thursday, but Cmdr. Bruce Cole, a CINCPACFLT spokesman, said the pierside checks are part of security options available under Threatcon Alpha Plus.

The new policy drew mixed reviews from shipboard sailors who are still in port.

"I think it’s a good security measure. It keeps everybody alert," said Seaman Daryl Brown, 20, of the USS Blue Ridge.

"I think it’s pretty cool," added his friend, Seaman Jarvis Wright, 22. "They shouldn’t let just anybody walk on the pier."

The new policy means sailors who live off base and work aboard ships must show identification three times before they board: once at the gate entrance, once at the pier, and once on the ship’s quarterdeck. Some sailors thought that was too much.

"On a pier, I don’t see the need for it," said Petty Officer 2nd class Misty Wood, 25. "If (terrorists) are going to attack us, they’re going to attack us by the water, not the pier."

Seaman Lanny Comins, 21, thinks even more needs to be done. He’d like to see the guards on the piers and the quarterdeck with weapons.

"As far as pier security, I’ve always thought it was inadequate," Comins said. "They’re armed with flashlights. … I don’t know why they don’t trust us with weapons."

Airman David Pierce of the Sasebo-based USS Essex said he hopes the new measures are made permanent.

"If they are going to do it, they should do it all the time, not just when a ship gets attacked," Pierce said.

One Yokosuka-based second-class petty officer, who requested anonymity, said he agreed with the pierside checks but doubted they would offer much deterrence.

"It’s better safe than sorry," he said. "(But) if you’re a terrorist, and you’ve made it this far, one E-3 standing at the end of the pier isn’t going to stop you."

U.S. Navy bases in Europe have been at Threatcon Bravo since before the Cole bombing. Facilities in Naples, Italy, and Rota, Spain, showed no obvious signs of stepped-up security.

At Sigonella, Sicily, security officials rigorously enforced the 100-percent ID check policy and increased scrutiny of packages coming to the base, according to a spokesman. And the base television station began running frequent announcements about Sigonella’s security status. A base spokesman urged sailors to wear civilian clothes and pair up when traveling off base.

Rumors persist that the 7th Fleet will be asked to send a ship — perhaps one of the Cole’s two Yokosuka-based sister ships, the USS Curtis Wilbur and the USS John S. McCain — to the Persian Gulf to make up for the Cole’s loss as a Tomahawk missile platform. The Cole, based in Norfolk, Va., was on its way to the Gulf when it was attacked by a terrorist bomb during a refueling stop in the Yemeni port city of Aden.

Lt. Jeff Davis, a spokesman for the 7th Fleet command, said Wednesday that no indication has been received that the Pentagon is considering such a move.

Greg Tyler, Anthony Burgos, Scott Schonauer, Wayne Specht and Mark Oliva contributed to this report.