Fishermen sue Cosco Busan

Fishermen who say their livelihoods have been devastated have filed at least two lawsuits against the owners and operators of the container ship that spilled 58,000 gallons of heavy bunker fuel into San Francisco Bay on Nov. 7.

The first was filed in federal court in San Francisco on Nov. 15 by owners and crew members of three crab fishing vessels.

The second was filed in San Francisco Superior Court today by commercial fishermen John Tarantino of Corte Madera and Steven Fitz of El Granada in San Mateo County.

Both lawsuits say fishermen have suffered “profound” economic damage from the oil contamination and both seek to be certified as class actions on behalf of all commercial operations that catch fish in and near San Francisco Bay.

The defendants in both cases include Hong Kong-based Regal Stone Ltd., the owner of the Cosco Busan; Hanjin Shipping Co. Ltd. of Korea, which leased the ship; and Synergy Maritime Ltd. of Cyprus, described as the employer of the Chinese crew.

Tarantino's and Fitz's lawsuit also names bar pilot John Cota, 59, of Petaluma, who was piloting the ship when it hit a tower of the Bay Bridge and sustained a 100-foot-long gash that spilled out the 58,000 gallons of oil.

Their lawsuit alleges the spill was the result of “reckless indifference, inattention and mismanagement among those responsible for the control” of the 68,000-ton freighter.

It contends that toxic bunker fuel “can have an overwhelmingly detrimental effect on human and marine life” and that the contamination may pose a long-term as well immediate threat to Bay fish.

Both lawsuits seek financial compensation and a punitive award.

Tarantino and Fitz are also asking for creation of a fund that would employ experts to test Bay fish to determine whether it is safe for human consumption now and in future years. The federal lawsuit asks for court supervision of a cleanup program.

Darrell Wilson, a spokesman for Regal Stone, said he could not comment specifically on the lawsuits.

Wilson said, “Regal Stone's first and most important concern is the response. We are not discussing the investigation or any legal matters out of respect for the process.”

Frank Pitrie, a Burlingame attorney representing Tarantino and Fitz, said, “It's a loss of livelihood and fear that you're not going to be able to enjoy the success you've had in the past.”

Pitrie predicted the two cases may proceed on parallel tracks in state and federal court because they are based on somewhat different legal theories.

While both include claims of negligence, the Superior Court lawsuit also includes claims under a California oil spill prevention and response law. The federal lawsuit is based on admiralty law.

San Francisco attorney William Audet, who filed the federal lawsuit, said he expects the lawsuits to be coordinated in some way and said there is “no question a lot of other cases will be filed.”

In the federal case, U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti in San Francisco today signed an arrest warrant requiring federal marshals to detain the ship along with another order allowing a private company, Marine Lenders Services LLC, to act as custodian.

Audet said the arrest warrant is an admiralty law mechanism intended to give plaintiffs a chance to seek the sale of a ship in order to be sure they will receive any compensation they might be awarded. He said he hopes the outcome of the action will be that an insurance company for the ship's owners will post a bond that would cover any possible future compensation.

Audet said he hopes to have the orders served on the ship soon.

Wilson had no comment on the arrest warrant.

The Cosco Busan is currently at a repair facility in San Francisco, according to Bernadette Fees, a California Fish and Game Department spokeswoman at the U.S. Coast Guard's Unified Command Joint Information Center for the oil spill.

Bay City News

Bay Area NewsLocal

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

Just Posted

San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott listens at a rally to commemorate the life of George Floyd and others killed by police outside City Hall on Monday, June 1, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Will the Biden Administration help SF speed up police reform?

City has struggled to implement changes without federal oversight

Lowell High School (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Students, families call for culture shift at Lowell after racist incident

District to explore changes including possible revision of admissions policy

Alan Wong was among California National Guard members deployed to Sacramento to provide security the weekend before the presidential inauguration. (Courtesy photo)
CCSF board member tests positive for COVID-19 after National Guard deployment

Alan Wong spent eight days in Sacramento protecting State Capitol before Inauguration Day

Due to a lack of votes in his favor, record-holding former Giant Barry Bonds (pictured at tribute to Willie McCovey in 2018) will not be entering the National Baseball Hall of Fame in the near future.<ins> (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)</ins>
Ex-Giants star Barry Bonds again falls short of Hall of Fame

After striking out yet again in his bid to join Major League… Continue reading

San Francisco firefighter Keith Baraka has filed suit against The City alleging discrimination on the basis of race and sexual orientation.<ins></ins>
Gay black firefighter sues city for discrimination

A San Francisco firefighter who says he was harassed and discriminated against… Continue reading

Most Read