July 15, 2020

MMA grad returns to recount Cole project

CASTINE – A nautical science graduate of Maine Maritime Academy, who helped organize the return from Yemen of the bomb-damaged destroyer USS Cole, will recount his involvement in the project during an appearance at the college Monday.

Jay Standring, a member of MMA’s Class of 1989 and a project officer in the Navy’s heavy-lift division, was called in to help coordinate the Cole’s trip from the Gulf of Aden to the United States after the destroyer nearly sank Oct. 12, after a suicide bombing by a small terrorist vessel that pulled up next to the ship during a standard refueling.

The attack left a 40-foot-by-40-foot hole on the port side of the vessel. It cost the lives of 17 sailors and injured 39 others.

After the crew fought for four days to keep the ship afloat, Standring was brought in aboard the Blue Marlin, a large flat ship. The craft was used as a base for the Cole on its trip to Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., where the Cole could be repaired.

“The Blue Marlin is a lot like a flatbed pickup truck,” Standring said in a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon. “It has a deckhouse in the front with nothing in back. Inside there are ballast tanks that fill up [and that could be lowered] into the water. And the Cole could be loaded and then the ballast tanks would empty back out when the ship was ready to go.”

The process of loading the Cole onto the Blue Marlin took the better part of 24 hours, Standring said. But that occurred only after traveling nine miles off the coast of Yemen to deeper waters and after nearly six days to build a cradle on the deck of the Blue Marlin to hold the destroyer.

“The Cole weighs about 9,000 tons and the Blue Marlin can hold a total of 30,000 tons,” Standring said. “But we basically needed a cradlelike structure to preclude any movement.”

Since returning to the United States, the Cole began a yearlong $240 million repair period that began in January, according to a Navy news release.

Standring said the Navy moves minesweeping vessels by way of a ship similar to the Blue Marlin every two to three years, but that the Cole retrieval was the first time in more than a decade that a battle-damaged ship was moved by means of a heavy-lift vessel.

“We had moved two minesweepers from Texas to Bahrain in July and August of last year using the Blue Marlin, but it isn’t that normal that we had all these lifts within a three-month period of time,” Standring said.

Even though the lifts are rare, Standring said, the Cole procedure was successful.

“I was very impressed with all the teamwork and how everyone just pulled together to get this done,” Standring said. “It was minuscule in comparison to the efforts of the crew of the Cole and the 17 people who lost their lives, but I was honored to be a part of this.”

He will speak at 7 p.m. Monday, March 12, in the Alumni Lecture Room of Leavitt Hall at MMA.

The free presentation is open to the public. For information, call MMA at 326-2256.

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