Pilot: Equipment a concern

As the U.S. Attorney’s Office subpoenaed six men aboard the Cosco Busan in its investigation, it was revealed in a separate probe Monday that the ship’s pilot had concerns about the vessel’s electronic navigating equipment before its crash into the Bay Bridge last week.

Capt. John Cota has met several times with U.S. Coast Guard investigators and was interviewed for the first time Monday with investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board about the accident Wednesday that dumped 58,000 gallons of fuel into San Francisco Bay.

The Coast Guard ceded its role as primary safety investigative agency to the NTSB to avoid a perception that “we were investigating ourselves,” said Rear Adm. Craig Bone, the top Coast Guard officer in California.

NTSB member Debbie Hersman said before the Cosco Busan set off, Cota had concerns about two sets of electronic navigating equipment: the vessel’s electronic charts and its radar. After making adjustments and talking to the vessel’s captain, he was satisfied.

Cota also told investigators that his radar imagery became distorted, Hersman said Monday. Cota told investigators he then switched to his electronic charting system, but problems with the mapping system arose.

Shortly after that, the captain and pilot werewarned that the bridge tower was in their path. Cota tried to change course, but it was too late, Hersman said.

In the investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the vessel’s captain — not Cota, the state-commissioned pilot — as well as its chief officer, second mate, third mate, chief engineer and helmsman were subpoenaed Monday, said Jim Lawrence, a spokesman for Hong Kong-based Regal Stone Ltd., which owns the ship.

Lawrence said the subpoenas were part of the U.S. Attorney’s Office investigation into the strict liability statutes they were exploring, and the six Chinese nationals will be supplied with lawyers in accordance with federal law.

The Coast Guard can issue an administrative civil penalty against Regal Stone. The NTSB, on the other hand, can subpoena witnesses but is limited in its authority: The agency can only offer a report with no recommendations on any punitive damages, according to lawyers with expertise in maritime law.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office can proceed with either a civil or criminal case depending on the evidence.

Attorney Deborah Schmall, who is not involved in any investigation, said there would likely be “considerable pressure” on the U.S. Attorney’s Office to press Regal Stone for compensation and perhaps prosecution of the company.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office did not return calls for comment.

dsmith@examiner.com

AP contributed to this report.

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