A rapid transport ship of the US Military Maritime Transport Command USNS Carson City arrived at Port Sudan harbour on the Red Sea on Wednesday “to enhance maritime security in the region” in a new indication of a post-embargo thaw in Sudan-US relations this year.
In a statement via social media on Wednesday, the US Embassy in Khartoum stated that the arrival of the US naval ship to Sudan is the first in decades, indicating that the ship’s arrival refers to the US Armed Forces' readiness to enhance the renewed partnership with the Sudanese Armed Forces.
“Today, the Military Sealift Command expeditionary fast transport ship USNS Carson City arrived in Port Sudan, Sudan. This is the first US Navy ship to visit Sudan in decades and highlights the willingness of the United States Armed Forces to strengthen their renewed partnership with the Sudanese Armed Forces,” the US Embassy says.
The US Embassy statement points out: “This visit follows the visit to Khartoum in January by US Africa Command’s Deputy Commander for Civil-Military Engagement, Ambassador Andrew Young, and Director of Intelligence, Rear Admiral Heidi Berg, to expand cooperative engagement.”
After the impressive vessel docked at the port’s northeast quay, Capt Frank Okata, commodore, Military Sealift Command Europe and Africa and Commander, Task Force 63 was ‘piped ashore’.
“We are honoured to work with our Sudanese partners in the enhancement of maritime security,” Capt Okata said.
Thaw in relations
The visit of USNS Carson City as well as the visit by the Andrew Young delegation in January are indicative of a thaw in Sudan-US relations in the wake of the removal of Sudan from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism (SST) on December 14, 2020 after 30 years of sanctions.
Sudan’s removal from the SST list, decreed in the dying days of the Donald Trump administration, was conditional on a bilateral claims settlement signed in November 2020 to resolve “default judgements and claims based on allegations that Sudan’s prior regime supported acts of terrorism”. Sudan had to pay $335 million, on top of approximately $72 million already paid, for distribution to victims of terrorism.
In exchange, after payment of compensation to the families of the victims of the bombing of the destroyer USS Cole* in Yemen in 2000, and the 1998 bombing of the US embassies in Dar El Salaam in Tanzania and Nairobi in Kenya, the default judgments and claims against Sudan in US courts would be dismissed, and Sudan’s sovereign immunities under US law would be restored to those enjoyed by countries that have never been designated by the US as a State Sponsor of Terrorism (SST).
* USS COLE: The October 12, 2000 attack killed 17 sailors and wounded more than three dozen others when two men in a small boat detonated explosives alongside the Navy guided-missile destroyer as it was refuelling in the southern Yemeni port of Aden, blasting a gaping hole in its hull. The vessel was repaired and later returned to full active duty.
In a ruling in March 2019, the US Supreme Court prevented US sailors injured in the deadly Al Qaeda bombing in 2000 of the US Navy destroyer USS Cole from collecting $314.7 million in damages from the government of Sudan for its alleged role in the attack.
A majority of eight judges to one overturned a lower court’s ruling that had allowed the US servicemen to collect the damages from certain banks that held frozen Sudanese assets. However the new judgment rests more on a legal technicality than exonerating Sudan. In the ruling, the justices agreed with Sudan that the lawsuit had not been properly initiated in violation of US law, because the claims were delivered in 2010 to the Sudanese Embassy in Washington rather than to its Minister of Foreign Affairs in Khartoum.
15 of the injured sailors and three of their spouses sued Sudan’s government in 2010 in Washington. At issue was whether mailing the lawsuit to Sudan’s embassy violated the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, a US law governing when foreign governments may be sued in American courts.