Operators of cargo ship in SF Bay spill fined $10M

February 19, 2010 2:32:19 PM PST
A federal judge on Friday fined a Hong Kong-based company $10 million after the cargo ship it operated caused a massive oil spill in San Francisco Bay in 2007. U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston also ordered Fleet Management Inc. to better train its officers in navigation and safety.

Court documents showed the company acknowledging its crew was poorly trained and the master failed to stop the pilot from leaving port in thick fog the morning of the accident.

Fleet agreed to the punishment in August when it pleaded guilty to obstruction, making false statements and negligent discharge of oil.

The 900-foot Cosco Busan spilled 53,000 gallons of oil on the foggy morning of Nov. 7, 2007, after sideswiping a San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge tower.

The ship's pilot, John Cota, was sentenced to 10 months in prison after pleading guilty to two misdemeanor charges.

Company lawyers declined comment Friday, citing active lawsuits over the spill.

The National Transportation Safety Board concluded earlier this year that a medically unfit pilot, an ineffective captain and poor communications between the two were the primary causes of the accident.

No one was injured in the accident, but the spill contaminated 26 miles of shoreline. It also killed more than 2,500 birds of about 50 species and delayed the start of the crab-fishing season. Cleanup efforts cost more than $70 million.

Fleet and Regal Stone Ltd., which owns the Cosco Busan, face several lawsuits from fishermen, cities along the bay and others affected by the spill.