As federal officials began investigating Monday’s crash of an empty tanker into the Bay Bridge, records showed that the ship’s pilot has been involved in other Bay Area accidents and was once denied license renewal due to an unspecified medical condition.
When the 752-foot Overseas Reymar struck the fender of a bridge support west of Yerba Buena Island, it was under the control of Guy Kleess, a 61-year-old San Franciscan with more than seven years’ experience in the Bay. State law requires that such bar pilots guide every large vessel in the Bay.
Although documents released by the San Francisco Bar Pilots Association on Tuesday showed that Kleess has several decades of maritime experience, state records documented three separate accidents in the past three years, including two for which he was found to be at fault.
On Aug. 27, 2009, a 560-foot ship that Kleess was piloting in the Sacramento River ran into a sand bank, according to the Board of Pilot Commissioners. A report found that Kleess was not at fault. Two days later, his 609-foot vessel struck a pylon attached to a walkway, damaging the structure. Kleess agreed to additional training. Then in May 2010, Kleess was piloting a ship in the Inner Richmond Harbor when the vessel shifted and its tugboat scraped the bottom. Kleess was found responsible but not disciplined.
Although that track record might suggest to some that Kleess was unsafe, board Executive Director Allen Garfinkle said the pilot’s record didn’t alarm him because those waterways are some of the region’s trickiest.
“Pilots that do choose to do that work are the most self-confident in their skills because the risks are so great,” Garfinkle said.
Of the 58 Bay Area bar pilots, Kleess is one of only 10 licensed to navigate on the tricky waterways of the Sacramento River Delta, association spokesman Charlie Goodyear said.
Documents also revealed that Kleess was on medical leave from Aug. 25, 2010, through Nov. 9, 2010, when his license was not renewed. He was denied a medical waiver in October 2010, records show, but was re-licensed Jan. 11, 2011.
Officials would not reveal the nature of his leave, citing privacy concerns. And neither state nor industry officials could say how many pilots have been granted similar medical waivers by the Coast Guard.
Calls to Kleess and his law firm were not returned Tuesday.
The National Transportation Safety Board announced Tuesday that it will investigate the incident with the Coast Guard, which classified it as a “major marine casualty” causing more than $500,000 worth of damage.
The Coast Guard interviewed Kleess and the ship’s crew Tuesday, Lt. Heather Lampert said. Officials also inspected the portion of the ship damaged in the collision.
The investigation will look for human error in Monday’s accident, which occurred after the Overseas Reymar had dropped off oil at a Martinez refinery and then anchored to receive supplies south of the Bay Bridge before leaving for Ecuador.
Human error was deemed one of the causes of the 2007 Cosco Busan tanker crash, which dumped 53,000 gallons of oil into the Bay. Investigators identified many causes, including insufficient training, pilot John Cota’s decision to navigate through dense fog and the Coast Guard’s failure to warn Cota he was off course. But investigators also found that Cota was using prescription drugs to battle several medical conditions, including sleep apnea.