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License suspended, training mandated for pilot who struck Bay Bridge in January

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The Overseas Reymar caused $3 million in damage when it slammed into the Bay Bridge on Jan. 7.

The pilot at the helm of the ship that struck the Bay Bridge in January will keep his license to operate ships on San Francisco Bay but will be suspended for at least five months without pay.

The Board of Pilot Commissioners made the announcement Monday. After the suspension, Guy Kleess will be required to undergo training and several dozen “observation trips” with “experienced licensed pilots.” After the suspension, he will be on probation for two years.

The ruling comes a few months after the board found that pilot error contributed to the Jan. 7 accident. On that morning, Kleess was piloting the 752-foot Overseas Reymar, which was leaving an anchorage south of the Bay Bridge. After heading north, Kleess attempted to turn the ship and head through a different opening under the western span of the Bay Bridge, but the empty oil tanker struck a fender on the bridge.

There was about $3 million in damage to the fender system of the bridge, but no oil spilled into the water.

The accident was the second time in recent years that a ship has struck a tower on the western span, and both incidents led to rule changes for navigating local waters.

In 2007, the Cosco Busan, piloted by John Cota, struck the bridge while navigating through dense fog. The tanker spilled more than 53,000 gallons of oil into the Bay.

After the 2007 collision, new rules were implemented. Following the Overseas Reymar incident, the rules were strengthened, including for sailing in foggy conditions.

Cota handed over his pilot's license after the Cosco Busan crash, before any punishment was doled out from the Board of Pilot Commissioners, making Monday's ruling one of the strictest in recent history.

“The board has imposed one of the most stringent disciplinary orders in decades, which includes suspension without pay, a substantial amount of mandatory training and the potential for revocation for any further violations,” Allen Garfinkle, executive director of the board, said in a statement.

Rex Clack, an attorney for Kleess, said in a statement that his client “looks forward to returning to duty.”

“Today's agreement will enable Capt. Kleess to return to duty upon meeting the terms of the agreement,” Clack said.

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