Cosco Busan pilot charged with lying about prescriptions

The bar pilot at the helm of the ship that struck the Bay Bridge and spilled fuel into the Bay will plead not guilty to to charges that he lied on federal forms about the medication he was taking, according to his attorney.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office filed two felony charges against 60-year-old John Cota on Tuesday. He faces up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines if convicted.

The Petaluma resident was previously charged with two misdemeanor offenses after the Cosco Busan sideswiped a fender on the base of the Bay Bridge on Nov. 7, spilling more than 53,000 gallons of fuel that killed thousands of birds.

Cota has alleged, through his attorneys, that malfunctioning radars and confusion around the Chinese crew’s electronic charts contributed to the accident. His attorneys have also said the U.S. Coast Guard failed to provide proper warning as the ship approached the bridge.

Cota’s attorney, Jeffrey Bornstein, said the captain, who pleaded not guilty to the previous misdemeanor charges, would offer the same plea when in court next week.

Pilots must be examined by a doctor annually, Bornstein said. Cota stands accused of lying on the Merchant Mariner Physical Examination Report in 2006 and 2007, according to the federal indictment. A mistake during the filling out of the forms for the U.S. Coast Guard lead to the charges, Bornstein said.

“We’re going to show that he complied in good faith,” he said. He added that there was “no connection” between the medications and the oil spill.

At National Transportation Safety Board hearings two weeks ago, documents showed that Cota took a number of prescription medications.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office offered no comment, adding that the indictment spoke for itself.

“He certified that all the information he provided was complete and true to the best of his knowledge, when in fact he knew that the information he provided was neither complete nor true,” according to the indictment.

The previous charges against Cota have been folded into the new indictment, and Bornstein said the case would be in court next week at an unspecified time.

dsmith@examiner.com

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