Cargo ship's crew zips up lips

The key players in the largest environmental crisis affecting the Bay in two decades are refusing to speak about the incident, hampering an investigation that has already been passed between federal agencies.

Six crew members aboard the Cosco Busan, the 900-foot cargo ship that slammed into the Bay Bridge last week and unleashed 58,000 gallons of oil into the water, have hired attorneys who have barred them from answering questions posed by the National Transportation Safety Board, the lead investigative body for the federal government.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard revealed Wednesday that some crew members did not undergo drug testing within the 36-hour window required by federal law. Contractors working for the company that owns the ship tested six crew members for drugs 53 hours after the accident. The six crew members were also tested for alcohol three hours after the accident, instead of two hours as required by law, the Coast Guard said.

The alcohol tests were delayed because the crew needed to move the ship away from the accident site, according to the Coast Guard. State-commissioned Capt. John Cota, who was piloting the ship, was tested properly for drugs and alcohol and the results were negative, officials said.

The crew has already been questioned by the Coast Guard about the Nov. 7 incident, which last week handed the federal investigation into the accident to the NTSB. However, when the U.S. Attorney’s Office began a criminal investigation, the crew members retained counsel, said Jim Lawrence, a spokesman with Regal Stone Ltd., the ship’s Hong Kong-based owner.

On advice of attorneys, the Chinese crew members — the captain, chief officer, helmsman, second mate, third mate and chief engineer — are not cooperating with the NTSB, Lawrence said. The crew has been issued subpoenas by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

NTSB member Debbie Hersman said investigators would still be able to conduct a “thorough investigation” without the interviews, but that one-on-one interviews were desirable.

“There are a number of other parallel investigations that are going on at this time,” she said. “It does make it very difficult for us to interview individuals in a safety accident investigation once stakes are increased.”

Investigators said they would like to speak with the crew of the ship after Cota indicated there were “questions about the symbology” on the electronic charting system, Hersman said. The ship was using the electronic charting system because its radar had malfunctioned in the heavy fog.

According to Hersman, the operator of the Revolution — the tugboat assisting the Cosco Busan out of the Bay — told NTSB investigators the larger vessel was traveling at approximately 10-11 knots when it clipped the delta span of the bridge.

Cota and the captain of the ship were communicating inEnglish while the captain and the rest of the crew were speaking in a Chinese dialect, Hersman said. Investigators are currently translating audio tapes from the voyage data recorder to better understand the crew’s decision-making.

Details regarding the investigation findings are expected today.

dsmith@examiner.com

Bay Area NewsLocal

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

Just Posted

Deputy public defender Chris Garcia outside the Hall of Justice on Wednesday, June 16, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
As pandemic wanes, SF public defender hopes clients will get ‘their day in court’

Like other attorneys in San Francisco, Deputy Public Defender Chris Garcia has… Continue reading

Hyphen hosts a group show at Space Gallery in San Francisco in 2010. (Photo courtesy of Albert Law/Pork Belly Studio)
What’s in a name? Asian American magazine fights to keep its identity

An investor-backed media group laid claim to the moniker of SF’s long-running Hyphen magazine, sparking a conversation about writing over community history

A warning notice sits under the windshield wiper of a recreational vehicle belonging to a homeless man named David as it sits parked on De Wolf Street near Alemany Boulevard on Friday, Aug. 31, 2018. A proposed SF Municipal Transportation Agency law would make it illegal for overnight parking on the side street for vehicles taller than seven feet or longer than 22 feet. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Fight over ‘poverty tows’ heats up

‘What can we do to ensure the vehicle stays in the hands of the owner?’

Crab fisherman Skip Ward of Marysville casts his crab net out off a pier near Fort Point. (Craig Lee/Special to The	Examiner)
San Francisco came back to life, and we captured it all

Last spring, in the early days of the pandemic, the bestselling authors… Continue reading

Revelers at Madrone Art Bar in the early hours of June 15, 2021 (Courtesy Power Quevedo).
No social distancing at Motown-themed dance party

‘I don’t care how anyone feels, I just want to dance!’

Most Read