Shipwreck pilot runs into more legal woes

The pilot involved in the Cosco Busan oil spill is bracing for two new potential felony charges that could bring a combined 10 years in prison and $500,000 in fines.

The Cosco Busan, a 900-foot cargo ship destined for the Korean Peninsula from San Francisco Bay, struck a base of the Bay Bridge during the foggy morning of Nov. 7. The resulting gash in the ship released 53,000 gallons of fuel oil into the Bay.

Capt. John Cota, a veteran San Francisco bar pilot, was responsible for advising the ship’s captain as it came in and out of port.

In statements through his attorneys, Cota has maintained that varying symbols on the Chinese crew’s charts and malfunctioning equipment on the bridge led to the accident.

Cota pleaded not guilty March 21 to two misdemeanor environmental charges, which could land him up to 18 months in prison and $115,000 in fines.

In court documents filed Monday, Cota’s attorney Jeffrey Bornstein wrote “two felony counts involving alleged false statements” are expected as early as today.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office, which filed the misdemeanor charges, would not comment on any potential new charges.

Bornstein told The Examiner on Monday that the potential charges come from Cota’sstatements to the U.S. Coast Guard about some medical issues.

At National Transportation Safety Board hearings two weeks ago, documents showed that Cota took a number of prescription medications.

“The charges are that he willfully, intentionally gave materially false information or withheld information from the Coast Guard about either medications or a medical condition,” Bornstein said.

“Our view is there is no relationship between a failure to disclose anything or any use of medication and the incident here,” he added.

Clean alcohol and drug tests after the incident and voice recordings on data recorders confirm that Cota was clear-headed at the time of the incident, Bornstein said. “You would hear him very clear, calm, clearly in control of his faculties,” he said.

dsmith@examiner.com

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