Chinese Cosco Busan crew to remain in U.S.

Chinese crew members aboard the Cosco Busan container ship when it hit the Bay Bridge in November will continue to be held in the United States as witnesses, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

The six men, none of whom have been charged with any crimes, are at the center of a legal battle about the crash, which caused an oil spill that killed wildlife and fouled beaches.

Wednesday’s court proceedings were to hear a “motion for release” brought by some of the crew members’ attorneys, who also asked “in the alternative, to compel scheduling” of depositions in the case.

The U.S. Department of Justice has charged the crew members’ employer, ship operator Fleet Management Ltd., with misdemeanor and felony charges in the accident.

The crew was inadequately trained and they made errors that caused the Nov. 7 crash, the department has alleged.

The department is also suing the Hong Kong-based shipping company in the spill.

The crew members are being held in Northern California on material-witness warrants. They have surrendered their passports, paid bonds and live in a hotel. International arrest warrants could be issued if they leave the country.

Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero ruled Wednesday that the depositions of two low-ranking crew members must begin in October. He said depositions of four other senior seamen must begin by Nov. 17 — 376 days after the crash.

The depositions will be used as evidence during a trial of Fleet Management and Petaluma pilot Capt. John Cota, which is scheduled to begin after Nov. 17.

Attorneys for the United States and Fleet Management unsuccessfully asked for later deposition dates to give them more time to prepare and conduct research.

Attorneys for the crew members said their clients’ constitutional rights are being violated because they are being detained without charge.

Spero said the men are “certainly stuck” in the United States, but he said they aren’t “detained” since they aren’t incarcerated.

jupton@sfexaminer.com

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