Detained Cosco Busan crew member to leave U.S.

Although six Chinese crew members from the container ship that struck the Bay Bridge in November have been detained in the U.S. for the past 9½ months, one worker will be allowed to travel to China to visit his ailing grandmother, a judge ruled Thursday.

Zong Bin Li was a seaman aboard the 900-foot Cosco Busan on Nov. 7 when it spilled more than 50,000 gallons of toxic shipping fuel into the Bay, killing thousands of birds.

Along with five other crew members, he has been prevented from leaving Northern California since November, since he is a witness for legal proceedings involving Petaluma Capt. John Cota, who was piloting the Cosco Busan that day, and shipping company Fleet Management.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spiro on Thursday agreed to return Li's passport and allow him to temporarily return home in September to HeNan Province to visit his 88-year-old grandmother, who is suffering heart problems and whose health is “rapidly” deteriorating, court documents show.

Under the conditions set by Spiro, Li is required to surrender his seaman’s card, post bond, provide his girlfriend’s contact details in China and return to the U.S. by Sept. 23. He is due to provide evidence in the form of a deposition in October for a trial due to begin in November.

Li has worked full-time since June as a kitchen helper at Izumiya Restaurant in Japantown, according to a court filing by his attorney, Jonathan Howden. Li obtained a work permit and Social Security card in the U.S. and plans to return to his job “indefinitely” when he returns to San Francisco, according to Howden’s filing.

Howden on Friday did not return phone calls or an e-mail seeking comment.

jupton@sfexaminer.com

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