OSLO, Norway (AP) _ The bomb-damaged American warship USS Cole will likely begin its long voyage home from Yemen in a few days, riding piggyback on a giant Norwegian transport ship, the transport's owners said Thursday.

For the M/V Blue Marlin, the U.S. Navy ship _ at 8,300 tons unloaded _ is not a particularly heavy burden.

``We can take 30,000 tons,'' said Jan Foss, a vice president of the Oslo-based Offshore Heavy Transport that owns the specialized transport ship.

The 712-foot-long, 133-foot-wide Blue Marlin usually hauls giant structures used in the offshore oil industry, and the loading process of the 505-foot-long Cole was relatively easy, Foss said.

The USS Cole suffered a bomb attack in Yemen on Oct. 12, killing 17 crew members and injuring 39 others. The destroyer was badly damaged _ a 40-foot-by-40-foot hole in the left side of its steel hull _ so the Navy hired the Blue Marlin to carry it back to the United States.

The Navy said Wednesday that the Blue Marlin had started the journey home. But OHT's manager Frederik Steenbuch said Thursday that the Cole was still being secured to the transport, which had not yet set off.

He said it will leave ``within a short period of time,'' but couldn't be more specific than saying within the next couple of days. The cause of the conflicting reports was not clear.

The voyage to the United States could be up to 12,650 miles, depending on the route. Able to cruise around 15 mph with its load, the Blue Marlin is expected to make the voyage in about five weeks.

The exact route and the port destination in the United States has remained unannounced for security reasons.

U.S. defense officials speaking on condition of anonymity have said the ships probably would take the long way home, going around the Cape of Good Hope on Africa's southern tip and avoiding Egypt's Suez Canal because of concerns about terrorism.

The Cole was moved into deeper waters off the coast of Yemen earlier this week and loaded onto its partially submerged carrier, company officials said.

The 56,000-ton Blue Marlin takes on water as ballast, allowing it to sink deep into the ocean. The cargo then floats into position and the ship pumps out its water tanks and resurfaces with the cargo on deck. The USS Cole was placed at an angle so its propeller and underwater sonar dome would hang over the side.

Foss said the ship will have a crew of 22 aboard but can accommodate 55 people. The Navy was also to have crew aboard.

The more than 200 crew members of the crippled Cole will be flown back to their home base, Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia, probably on Friday, officials have said.

News reports have speculated that the operation will cost about $4.5 million, a figure which Foss said ``is in the neighborhood.''

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On the Net: The USS Cole: http://www.chinfo.navy.mil/navpalib/news/news_stories/cole.html

The Blue Marlin: http://www.oht.no