Shipping company wants to plead no contest for oil spill

The shipping company that operated the Cosco Busan when the container ship slammed into the Bay Bridge told a judge it doesn’t want to contest federal criminal charges that it negligently caused an oil spill and then misled investigators.

Fleet Management is facing more than $3 million in fines if convicted on the federal misdemeanor and felony charges and it is also being sued by the U.S. Department of Justice about the Nov. 7 oil spill in the Bay.

“The purpose of the plea is to fairly resolve the criminal case,” Fleet Management attorney Marc Greenberg wrote in court documents filed this week. “Disallowing it will unquestionably impact Fleet’s ability to receive a fair judgment in the civil matters now pending.”

Attorneys representing members of the Chinese crew have acknowledged in court statements that their clients falsified documents, including a passage plan to guide the 900-foot ship from Oakland to South Korea, after the collision.

The attorneys in court documents said the crew members were following orders from more senior Fleet Management officials.

Greenberg in his filings laid much of the blame for the crash on other parties, including Petaluma pilot Capt. John Cota, a co-defendant in the criminal case scheduled to begin Nov. 17.

Cota’s attorney, Jeffrey Bornstein, said the filing showed that Fleet Management’s attorneys “don’t have a defense in the criminal case and so they want to try and dispose of it, but to do it in a way that does not involve pleading guilty.”

Bornstein has previously asked U.S. District Judge Susan Illston to order separate trials for Cota and Fleet Management because the company intends to base its defense on “character assassination” of his client.

Illston is charged with deciding whether to allow the plea.

jupton@sfexaminer.com

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