Hearings on oil spill launch this morning

The navigation equipment on the Cosco Busan was found to be in good working order during an inspection by its manufacturer after the container ship swiped the Bay Bridge in November, an engineer for the manufacturer is expected to testify today.</p>

Petaluma pilot John Cota told National Transportation Safety Board investigators after the crash that there were problems with the ship’s radar and electronic charts before the ship left port and during its short, ill-fated voyage in heavy fog, investigators said at the time.

An engineer at Sperry Marine — a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman Corp. that manufactured the ship’s navigation equipment in 2001 — is scheduled to testify this morning at the start of a two-day NTSB hearing into the accident.

The navigation equipment onboard the Cosco Busan was inspected by a Sperry Marine service engineer on Nov. 12 and determined to be in “good working order with no faults found,” Northrop Grumman spokesman Tom Delaney told The Examiner on Monday. He said both of the ship’s radars successfully detected the Bay Bridge’s radar beacons when tested.

Cota is facing federal environmental charges carrying up to 18 months in jail and $115,000 in fines over the spill of more than 50,000 gallons of toxic shipping fuel caused by the accident. The slick closed area beaches for months, killed seals and thousands of birds, and delayed the annual crabbing and herring seasons.

Cota’s attorneys in a March letter suggested the NTSB investigate whether the Chinese crew adjusted the equipment before the accident, and whether the Sperry engineer adjusted the equipment after the accident.

The NTSB this morning will release thousands of pages of evidence unearthed during its investigation, including transcripts of brief exchanges in English between Cota and Capt. Mao Cai Sun that were recorded as the ship steamed toward the Bay Bridge tower and after the impact, according to NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson.

Sun and five other Chinese members of the crew are being kept on witness warrants in a hotel, according to Chinese Consulate spokesman Defa Tong.

Also on Monday, bills in the state Legislature that would help cleanup crews speed up their response to oil spills advanced in committees. The bills call for local officials to get faster notice of spills. Volunteers would get training and equipment to help clean up oil-contaminated beaches and wildlife.

jupton@examiner.com

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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