As heavy fog hung over the Bay on Nov. 7, at least four container ships decided to remain docked. U.S. Coast Guard officials say that only one ship decided to leave port — the Cosco Busan.
The ship was the only large vessel in the area when it swiped the base of the Bay Bridge, dumping 53,000 gallons of oil into the Bay, according to the Coast Guard.
Visibility was less than a quarter-mile, but Capt. John Cota still gave the go-ahead to pilot the 900-foot, 65,000-gross-ton cargo ship from its moorings, said Rear Adm. Craig Bone, the Coast Guard commander for California.
“These human decisions are critical elements to causal factors of this casualty,” Bone said. In citing human error, Bone noted that Cota wasn’t the only one aboard the ship that morning.
Cota’s attorney, Jeffrey Bornstein, said his client made appropriate safety checks before departing.
“As required, he reported to the Vessel Traffic Services,” Bornstein said. “They responded with no warning or caution that it was unsafe to leave.”
Because of the incident, the Coast Guard is working on a new policy that would restrict container ships larger than1,600 gross tons from entering nine high-risk points in the Bay when visibility is less than a half-mile, Coast Guard Pacific Area spokesman Dan Dewell said.
The zones would essentially prevent any large container ships from leaving their moorings during times of heavy fog, Dewell said.
Dewell said the Coast Guard hasn’t officially implemented the plan, but the department has received compliance assurances from all major container ships in the Bay.
Bone said that in addition to the new restrictions on travel in poor weather, the Coast Guard encourage pilots to carry their own laptops with navigational charts. Cota has said the radar on the Cosco Busan was unreliable and there was confusion about symbols on at least one of the navigational charts, Bornstein said Thursday. Cota didn’t have a laptop with him.
Cota is only person charged so far in the incident. He was charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office with two federal misdemeanor charges of violating environmental laws protecting migratory birds and water quality. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 18 months and $115,000 in fines. On March 21, Cota pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Along with the Coast Guard’s investigation, a report from the Department of Homeland Security is due out next month, and a Justice Department is also conducting an ongoing study.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Proposed Coast Guard restrictions would prohibit the movement of ships that weigh more than 16,000 gross tons when visibility is less than a half-mile in the Bay.
» Redwood Creek
» San Mateo-Hayward Bridge
» Oakland Bar Channel (area of Bay Bridge and Yerba BuenaIsland)
» Islais Creek Channel
» Richmond Inner Harbor
» Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, east span
» Union Pacific Bridge
» New York Slough, up-bound
» Rio Vista Lift Bridge
Source: U.S. Coast Guard