Ship pilot Guy Kleess who struck Bay Bridge could lose his license

AP File PhotoThe Overseas Reymar tanker

AP File PhotoThe Overseas Reymar tanker

The state agency that oversees the bar pilots who guide large ships through local waterways is taking action to suspend or revoke the license of Guy Kleess, the man in control of the empty tanker that struck the Bay Bridge in January.

The California Board of Pilot Commissioners recommended on Thursday that the issue be sent to an administrative law judge, who will hear the evidence and issue a ruling about whether Kleess’ license should be suspended or revoked. It will remain suspended until the conclusion of the hearing, which should be heard by a judge within 40 days.

See a breakdown of what happened before the crash below the article.

The recommendation came after about 45 minutes of closed-door discussions about the commission’s Incident Review Committee report into the Jan. 7 incident in which the 752-foot Overseas Reymar struck a tower on the western span of the Bay Bridge.

The report said Kleess did not use the resources available to him to prevent the incident, had lost situational awareness, had become complacent and had failed to communicate well with the crew. One part of the report noted that Kleess did not use a second radar available on the ship’s bridge that had a clearer picture, despite looking at it once before the crash.

The report concluded that Kleess “did not use ordinary care of an expert in his profession when directing the movement of the Overseas Reymar and that there was misconduct committed.”

The Incident Review Committee recommended that the commission also find that there was pilot error, but that ruling was stayed until the administrative hearing concludes. Any final decision about Kleess’ license would be made by the board.

Before the commission made its recommendation, Rex Clack, an attorney for Kleess, said the question should be how a bar pilot should be judged in this matter. He urged the commission to reject the committee’s recommendation.

“A pilot should not be judged by 20/20 hindsight,” Clack said of the report that strings together a series of events before the collision. “I also submit to you that no one could survive the scrutiny of 20/20 hindsight judgment.”

Clack did not argue about the facts, but said, “The real question is what these facts mean.

“We believe the facts show that Capt. Kleess used the care and skill of a pilot and met this standard, and he did this in very difficult circumstances and conditions.”

Clack said the hearing before the administrative judge will allow Kleess, who has worked on tanker ships since 1976, to present his case.

Kleess’ career as a bar pilot in the Bay Area started in 2005, two years after he was admitted to the training program here. He also was one of a handful of pilots licensed to guide large ships around the Sacramento and Stockton ports.

But starting in 2009, Kleess has had a handful of incidents, including two in August 2009 just a few days apart and a third in May 2010. Board of Pilot Commissioners records also show that Kleess had been on medical leave from August to November 2010, when his license was not renewed. He was denied a medical waiver in October 2010, but his license was reissued in January 2011.

He had no further incidents until crashing into the Bay Bridge, which was the second time a large vessel has struck a tower of the western span.

The Cosco Busan, a cargo ship piloted by Capt. John Cota, hit the bridge in November 2007, spilling more than 53,000 gallons of oil. Cota surrendered his pilot license before any actions could be taken against him, but he eventually pleaded guilty to misdemeanor environmental charges and was sentenced to 10 months in prison.

How it happened

The timeline of events Jan. 7, when the Overseas Reymar struck the Bay Bridge:

  • 10:36 a.m.: Guy Kleess boards the vessel
  • 10:42 a.m.: Master-pilot information exchange, including route information, completed
  • 10:54 a.m.: Anchor raised and ship sets sail
  • 11:10 a.m.: Kleess notifies Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Service that he’s changing course to pass through different span of Bay Bridge
  • 11:11.25 a.m.: Ship’s master, who takes over as captain in open waters, receives call on satellite phone
  • 11:11.45 a.m.: Kleess orders ship from half-speed to full-speed ahead
  • 11:12.45 a.m.: Ship’s master asks Kleess if lunch at 11:30 is OK
  • 11:15.5 a.m.: Ship’s master takes second satellite phone call that lasts for nearly three minutes
  • 11:17 a.m.: Vessel Traffic Service warns that Overseas Reymar is headed directly for tower of Bay Bridge and asks if everything is OK; Kleess responds “yes” and says ship is under bridge “right now”
  • 11:17.25 a.m.: Kleess orders hard turn as bow of ship goes under bridge
  • 11:17.45 a.m.: Ship’s master hangs up phone; Kleess says “Oh s***” as ship hits protective fender on bridge tower on western span
  • 11:17.55 a.m.: Kleess orders engines stopped, says, “We just touched the bridge”
  • 11:18.5 a.m.: Kleess calls Vessel Traffic Service and says he’s going to anchor ship, says, “We just touched the bridge”

Source: California Board of Pilot Commissioners’ Incident Review Committee report

Bay Area NewsGuy KleessLocalSan Francisco Bay

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at