Bay spill lawsuits pour in

Legal complaints against the owners of the Cosco Busan and its local pilot are piling up as workers continue to wash away oil from Bay Area shores.

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed a lawsuit Monday in San Francisco Superior Court against Captain John Cota and ship owner Regal Stone Ltd., along with others involved with the operation of the ship, seeking compensation for the cost of The City’s response and investigation of the incident.

“We’ve been coordinating with various city departments documenting The City’s efforts and our costs,” Herrera said, calling the lawsuit a “culmination” of those efforts.

On Nov. 7, the 900-foot cargo container ship Cosco Busan sideswiped a Bay Bridge tower, spilling 58,000 gallons of oil into the Bay. One month later, crews are still working to clean oil from the sensitive shoreline.

The damages could potentially add up to millions of dollars, according to the City Attorney’s Office. The lawsuit also alleged that Regal Stone and ship operators violated state law when they failed to respond appropriately to the spill.

The defendants could see civil penalties between $25,000 and $500,000 for each day a violation of the state’s Lempert-Keene-Seastrand Oil Spill Prevention and Response Act occurred. The City continues to evaluate each day whether there are violations, Herrera said.

Regal Stone spokesman Jim Lawrence would not comment on any of the specifics in the lawsuits “out of respect for the process,” he said.

Cota’s attorney, John Meadows, did not return calls for comment on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit is at least the fourth action against Regal Stone and the third that names Cota as a defendant.

In the lawsuit, The City alleged negligence, saying ship operators did not follow normal procedures when they left the Alameda berth.

Among the complaints are that the ship sailed in foggy conditions that reduced visibility to less than one-tenth of a mile and that the crew and pilot did not know how to operate the Cosco Busan’s navigational system.

The lawsuit alleges that operators failed to use resources such as the tugboat and the U.S. Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Service to avoid the collision, adding that operators did not pay attention to warnings from the Coast Guard that the ship was headed for the tower. The ship also allegedly sailed at a speed “excessive for the circumstances,” according to the documents.

In a written accusation last week, the state Board of Pilot Commissioners alleged that Cota gave a full-ahead order after visibility dropped to approximately one-tenth of a nautical mile and the ship’s radar pictures “deteriorated to the point” that Cota “lost confidence in them.

Sea of litigation

At least four lawsuits have been filed in response to the Nov. 7 oil spill

» Nov. 15: Out-of-state crab fishermen file federal lawsuit for losses

» Nov. 20: Local crab fishermen sue for economic losses from spill

» Nov. 30: The federal government files lawsuit for damages

» Monday: The City files lawsuit for economic damage and costs

dsmith@examiner.com

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