Hearing for Fleet Management Pilot

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, federal prosecutors told a judge that the pilot of the container ship that struck the Bay Bridge in November 2007 ignored basic safety precautions, lied to licensing authorities about his prescription drug use, and should be sentenced to 10 months in prison, the maximum recommended by his plea agreement. Capt. John Cota's lawyers asked for a two-month sentence, the minimum term in the plea agreement, and argued that prosecutors were making the 61-year-old pilot a scapegoat in "an accident with many causes." Their papers were filed Friday with U.S. District Judge Susan Illston, who is scheduled to sentence Cota this Friday. A court probation officer has recommended a $30,000 fine – which Cota's lawyers accepted – and a three-month sentence.  Cota, who had guided ships through the bay for 27 years, was navigating the 901-foot Cosco Busan when it hit a bridge tower in heavy fog, spilling more than 53,000 gallons of oil that reached the bay shoreline and ocean beaches. The government said the spill killed more than 2,400 birds and cost more than $70 million to clean up, in addition to tens of millions of dollars in damage to the ship, and the bridge, according to the Chronicle's report.

Cota pleaded guilty in March to two misdemeanor charges of polluting the waters and killing seabirds. The ship's operating company, Fleet Management Ltd., is charged with the same crimes and with six felony counts of concealing and fabricating navigation documents to obstruct a federal investigation. The company is scheduled to go to trial in September.

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