New rules recommended for sailing under Bay Bridge after January incident

A maritime safety group could adopt new guidelines Thursday that would limit ships from sailing under the Bay Bridge in foggy conditions, among other safety precautions.

The move comes after the 752-foot tanker Overseas Reymar stuck the Bay Bridge on Jan. 7 as it was leaving an anchorage south of the span. The incident was the second time a large ship had struck a tower on the bridge; the Cosco Busan hit it in 2007, dumping more than 50,000 gallons of oil into San Francisco Bay.

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In 2008, new guidelines limited ships from sailing in parts of the Bay under dense fog, but the Bay and Golden Gate bridges were exempted so that large craft could enter the Bay and make it to safe anchorage spots, including several that are south of the Bay Bridge.

After the Overseas Reymar crash, the Coast Guard asked the Harbor Safety Committee, which institutes safety guidelines for the Bay, to revisit the navigation rules.

An agency working group on Monday released its recommendations, which include barring ships from sailing north under the Bay Bridge when visibility is a half-mile or less. The guidelines also include making visibility reports part of the sailing plan vessels give to the Coast Guard, and encouraging ships to use the two widest spans of the Bay Bridge when there is reduced visibility.

Deb Self, the director of the environmental group San Francisco Baykeeper and a member of the working group that created the recommendations, called the temporary guidelines “very conservative.” She said the group will continue to work on the issue after the full investigation into the Overseas Reymar is completed to see if any further safety issues need to be addressed.

“I am really pleased and wholeheartedly support these temporary changes,” Self said.

Coast Guard Cmdr. Jason Tama said the agency is working to create procedures to implement any guidelines that may be approved during a Thursday meeting of the Harbor Safety Committee.

He said the Coast Guard is “hopeful” the group recommends the new guidelines.

Cosco Busan pilot sues Coast Guard over license

The cargo ship pilot who caused a massive San Francisco Bay oil spill is making another attempt to regain his mariner’s license.

The San Jose Mercury News reported on Monday that 65-year-old John Cota has filed a lawsuit alleging that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Coast Guard violated his civil rights by denying a request to renew his merchant marine license.

Cota was piloting the Cosco Busan ship in heavy fog Nov. 7, 2007, when it sideswiped the Bay Bridge and spilled more than 50,000 gallons of oil into the Bay.

He pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges of illegally discharging oil in the Bay after the Coast Guard concluded he was impaired by prescription drugs and failed to follow safety precautions before the crash.

— AP

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