S.F. sues owners of Cosco Busan

The city filed a lawsuit Monday claiming negligence by the owners and operators of the ship that caused last month's oil spill in San Francisco Bay.

The suit brought inSan Francisco Superior Court by City Attorney Dennis Herrera alleges the cargo ship's owners and ship pilot John Cota violated California law by sailing the boat under dangerous conditions. It also maintains they failed to respond quickly enough to prevent a spill when the ship struck a bridge tower.

“This was a wholly avoidable incident that has caused more injury to the San Francisco Bay area than we can yet begin to fathom,” Herrera said in a statement.

The city is seeking compensation for the cost of dealing with the spill, damages for the economic impact on local beaches, wildlife, fishing and tourism and penalties for the defendants' alleged violation of environmental protection laws.

Darrell Wilson, a spokesman for Regal Stone, which owns the Cosco Busan, said the company would not comment on the case because of ongoing state and federal investigations into the 58,000-gallon spill.

Meanwhile, attorneys for a group of crabbers announced a settlement with Regal Stone's insurance company to compensate the fishermen for economic losses. The state banned fishing in the bay and coastal waters outside the Golden Gate for two weeks after the spill, and dozens of crabbers also refrained from fishing in outer waters amid concerns of contamination.

Under a first phase of the insurance payout, about 65 crabbers will split $700,000, the plaintiffs' attorneys said Monday.

Also Monday, the U.S. Coast Guard said Cota had not yet relinquished his federal Merchant Marine Officer's license, as the agency had requested. His state harbor pilot's license was suspended two weeks ago.

The Coast Guard asked Cota on Friday to voluntarily surrender the federal license, which is a prerequisite for receiving any state-issued license that would allow him to work as an officer on a commercial ship, said spokesman Dan Dewell. The action was taken because of questions about Cota's “physical competence,” Dewell said, declining to elaborate.

Cota was given until Tuesday to hand over his federal mariner's license. If he does not comply, the Coast Guard could ask a judge to suspend or revoke it, he said.

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