Captain Blamed in 2007 Cosco Busan Oil Spill Seeking Renewed Mariner’s License

One of our specialties at The Brod Law Firm is handling cases involving the oil industry. Whether it is a refinery accident in Richmond or an oil spill in San Francisco Bay, our firm is equipped to handle toxic tort lawsuits in Northern California, including litigation arising out of the oil industry.

The Oakland Tribune is reporting on a development involving Captain John Cota, the individual blamed for crashing the cargo ship Cosco Busan into the Bay Bridge on November 7, 2007. The collision tore a 211 foot rip into the ship, resulting in the worst oil spill in Bay waters since the rupture of a Martinez Shell refinery tank in 1988. The Cosco Busan incident caused 53,000 gallons of oil to spill into San Francisco Bay, oiling sixty-nine miles of shoreline, killing over 2,500 birds, and closing area fisheries. A civil lawsuit against Regal Stone Ltd., the ship’s owner, and its operator, Fleet Management Ltd, settled last year with the defendants agreeing to pay $44 million.

Investigators blamed the Costa Busan collision on John Cota’s diminished capacity due to the use of prescription medication. They also cited his failure to heed safety precautions and the decision to travel too fast despite heavy fog conditions as factors in the collision. Cota, age 64, pled guilty and served ten months in prison on water-pollution charges. Additionally, NTSB officials criticized the Coast Guard for failing to warn Cota of the impending collision and cited their failure to properly evaluate Cota’s medical status before renewing his license.

At the time of the crash, Cota had spent more than twenty-five years working as a bar pilot in the Bay. After finding Cota at fault in the Cosco Busan crash, the California Board of Pilot Commisioners began the process of revoking his pilot’s license but instead permitted Cota to voluntarily resign. Bar pilots stand on the bridge of a large vessel, such as a freighter or oil tanker, in order to help the captain maneuver in the Bay. Many ships pass within a few dozen yards of potential hazards such as Alcatraz and the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge. The position is highly paid because it involves a high level of risk.

It was only within recent months that the Coast Guard formally cancelled his merchant marine license. According to the Tribune report, Cota is currently working with his attorneys to try and renew his mariner’s license which would allow him to work on commercial ships but not as a pilot. Coast Guard officials confirmed that Cota was issued a final denial in February but his attorneys say they are still exploring avenues, including litigation, to allow Cota to obtain a renewed license allowing him to sail commercially in bay waters. In issuing the February denial, the Coast Guard found Cota failed to meet medical and professional qualifications. Officials also cited Cota’s criminal conviction in the Cosco Busan incident as well as his involvement in the grounding of another ship in 2006 near Anitoch.

We hope that safety will remain a paramount concern in all matters relating to tankers in Bay waters and we will continue to follow the developments related to the Cosco Busan disaster. While we hope oil industry accidents are few and far between, our team has the experience necessary to serve as a San Francisco oil accident law firm and we are prepared to help victims of future incidents on the Northern California coastline.

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