Shipping company renews bid for no-contest plea in Bay spill

A Hong Kong shipping company has renewed its bid to a federal judge for permission to plead no contest to eight criminal charges stemming from a San Francisco Bay oil spill last year.

Fleet Management Ltd. argued in papers filed late Thursday that a no-contest plea has the same “stature and import” as a guilt conviction and that a criminal judgment “is a bitter pill for a company, no matter how you get there.”

U.S. District Judge Susan Illston will hold a hearing in San Francisco Monday on whether the company can plead no contest to charges of polluting the bay, killing migratory birds and creating false transit documents after the Nov. 7, 2007, spill.

Fleet Management was operating the Cosco Busan when the container ship struck a protective fender of the Bay Bridge in heavy fog and spilled nearly 54,000 gallons of oil into the Bay.

In a no-contest plea, a defendant does not admit guilt, but accepts liability for the sentence or fines that would result from a conviction. A judge must grant permission for the plea.

The company told the judge earlier this month that it wanted to enter the plea to avoid a costly trial and to allow blame to be apportioned in several separate civil lawsuits now pending in federal court.

But prosecutors have argued that the plea would be inappropriate because the company would not have to accept responsibility for the allegedly “serious crimes it has committed.”

Federal prosecutors contend Fleet Management failed to train the ship's crew properly. They said in a filing this week that the Chinese captain and crew were placed on the ship for the first time only 14 hours before the ship sailed from South Korea two weeks before the spill.

Pilot John Cota, 60, of Petaluma, also faces criminal charges in the spill and is scheduled to be tried on two of the charges together with Fleet Management in Illston's court on Nov. 17.

Illston at the hearing Monday will also consider Cota's request to have the trial moved to Fresno because of extensive publicity. Cota also wants to be tried separately from Fleet Management if the judge requires the company to go to trial.

Cota's lawyers have argued that since Fleet Management blames the accident partly on Cota, having a joint trial would be like having a second prosecutor for the pilot.

Bay City News

Bay Area NewsLocal

Just Posted

A collaborative workspace for a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) in Coordinape is pictured at a recent blockchain meet up at Atlas Cafe. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)</ins>
Business without bosses: San Francisco innovators battle bureaucracy with blockchain

‘The next generation will work for three DAOs at the same time’

Plan Bay Area 2050 is an expansive plan guiding the region’s growth and development over the next three decades. The regional plan addresses progressive policy priorities like a universal basic income and a region-wide rent cap, alongside massive new spending on affordable housing and transportation infrastructure. (Shutterstock)
Plan Bay Area 2050: Analyzing an extensive regional plan that covers the next 30 years

Here are the big ticket proposals in the $1.4 trillion proposal

Pregnant women are in the high-risk category currently prioritized for booster shots in San Francisco. (Unai Huizi/Shutterstock)
What pregnant women need to know about COVID and booster shots

Inoculations for immunosuppressed individuals are recommended in the second trimester

Examiner reporter Ben Schneider drives an Arcimoto Fun Utility Vehicle along Beach Street in Fisherman’s Wharf on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
Could San Francisco’s tiny tourist cruisers become the cars of the future?

‘Fun Utility Vehicles’ have arrived in The City

Most Read