On 12 October 2000 was attacked by a suicide bomber while it was harbored and being refueled in the Yemen port of Aden. Seventeen American sailors were killed, and 39 were injured. The terrorist organization al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack.
On the morning of Thursday, 12 October 2000, USS Cole, under the command of Commander Kirk Lippold, docked in Aden harbor for a routine fuel stop. Cole completed mooring at 09:30. Refueling started at 10:30. Around 11:18 local time (08:18 UTC), a small craft approached the port side of the destroyer, and an explosion occurred, creating a 40-by-40-foot gash in the ship’s port side, according to the memorial plate to those who lost their lives. According to former CIA intelligence officer Robert Finke, the blast appeared to be caused by explosives molded into a shaped charge against the hull of the boat. Around 400 to 700 pounds (200–300 kg) of explosive were used. The blast hit the ship’s galley, where crew were lining up for lunch. The crew fought flooding in the engineering spaces and had the damage under control after 3 days. Divers inspected the hull and determined that the keel was not damaged.
17 sailors were killed and 39 were injured in the blast. The injured sailors were taken to the United States Army‘s Landstuhl Regional Medical Center near Ramstein, Germany, and later, back to the United States. The attack was the deadliest against a U.S. naval vessel since the Iraqi attack on the USS Stark on 17 May 1987. The asymmetric warfare attack was organized and directed by the terrorist organization al-Qaeda. In June 2001, an al-Qaeda recruitment video featuring Osama bin Laden boasted about the attack and encouraged similar attacks.
The first naval ship on the scene to assist the stricken Cole was the Royal Navy Type 23 frigate, HMS Marlborough, under the command of Capt Anthony Rix, RN. She was on passage to the UK after a six-month deployment in the Gulf. Marlboroughhad full medical and damage control teams on board and when her offer of assistance was accepted she immediately diverted to Aden. Eleven of the most badly injured sailors were sent via MEDEVAC to a French military hospital in Djibouti and underwent surgery before being sent to Germany.
The first U.S. military support to arrive was a Quick Response Force from the United States Air Force Security Forces, transported by C-130. They were followed by another small group of United States Marines from the Interim Marine Corps Security Force Company, Bahrain flown in by P-3. Both forces landed within a few hours after the ship was struck and were reinforced by a U.S Marine platoon with the 1st Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team Company (FAST), based out of Norfolk, Virginia. The Marines from 4th Platoon, 1st FAST arrived on the 13th from a security mission in Bahrain. The FAST platoon secured the USS Cole and a nearby hotel that was housing the U.S. Ambassador to Yemen.
USS Donald Cook and USS Hawes made best speed to arrive in the vicinity of Aden that afternoon providing repair and logistical support. USNS Catawba, USS Camden, Anchorage, Duluth and Tarawa arrived in Aden some days later, providing watch relief crews, harbor security, damage control equipment, billeting, and food service for the crew of the Cole. LCU 1666 provided daily runs from the Tarawa with hot food and supplies and ferrying personnel to and from all other Naval vessels supporting USS Cole. In the remaining days LCU 1632 and various personnel from LCU 1666 teamed up to patrol around the Cole while the MV Blue Marlin was preparing to take up station to receive the Cole.
A memorial to the victims of the attack was dedicated at Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia on 12 October 2001. It was erected along the shore of the Elizabeth River near the USS Wisconsin, and overlooks the berth of the USS Cole. Seventeen low-level markers stand for the youthfulness of the sailors, whose lives were cut short. Three tall granite monoliths, each bearing brass plaques, stand for the three colors of the American flag. A set of brown markers encircling the memorial symbolize the darkness and despair that overcame the ship. In addition, 28 black pine trees were planted to represent the 17 sailors and the 11 children they left behind.
The memorial was funded by contributions from thousands of private individuals and businesses to the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, which gave the memorial to the Navy. Its design originated as a vision of USS Cole crew members, who then teamed with Navy architects and the Society to finalize the project.