U.S. military vessels have not been using the Suez Canal since the alleged suicide attack on the USS Cole on Oct. 12, but U.S. and Egyptian officials are working very closely on security arrangements for the vital waterway, a military spokesman said.
A spokesman for the U.S. Central Command emphasized the importance of the Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, to U.S. military and commercial traffic and said Egypt took the waterway's security very seriously. However, he said the USS Cole, a U.S. guided missile destroyer that had a hole blown in its side while refueling in the Yemeni port of Aden, was the last U.S. military ship to traverse the waterway as it headed for Yemen in early October.
Seventeen sailors were killed and 39 injured on Oct. 12 in what officials believe was a suicide attack by bombers in a small boat packed with explosives.
He declined to give any details on what the policy meant for the USS Cole's return trip to the United States, saying the Defense Department never commented on operations. If the USS Cole, which was towed out of the port of Aden on Sunday, cannot transit the Suez Canal, it will have to head home via the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa, which could add one week to the normal two-week journey.
U.S. military forces have been on heightened alert throughout the Middle East and other regions after the surprise attack on the Cole. U.S. ships have also been banned from pulling into any port in the Gulf.