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Pilot charged in San Francisco Bay Bridge spill

  • Story Highlights
  • Pilot John Cota will face two federal misdemeanor charges, court papers show
  • Ship crashed into San Francisco Bay Bridge, spilling 60,000 gallons of fuel
  • 2,000 birds were killed as a result of the November incident
  • Cota was licensed by both the U.S. Coast Guard and the State of California
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From Terry Frieden
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The pilot of the oil tanker that crashed into the San Francisco Bay Bridge, causing a major oil spill last year, has been charged in federal court with criminal negligence in the accident.

A gash where the MV Cosco Busan struck a bridge support is visible as the ship sits at anchor in November.

Court documents indicate John Cota, pilot of the Cosco Busan, will face two federal misdemeanor charges, which could result in up to 18 months in prison and fines totaling $115,000.

The Hong Kong-registered ship spilled nearly 60,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil November 7, resulting in the deaths of about 2,000 birds. After departing the Port of Oakland in heavy fog, the ship struck a span of the Bay Bridge, causing the spill.

Cota, a California resident, was a member of the San Francisco Bar Pilots and was licensed by both the U.S. Coast Guard and the State of California.

The government charges he failed to pilot a safe course, failed to review the navigational charts before departure, and failed to use the vessel's radar as he approached the bridge.

The court documents say Cota faces one count of violating the Clean Water Act and one count of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

"The Clean Water Act makes it a crime for a person to negligently discharge oil upon the navigable waters ... of the United States in such quantities as may be harmful," said the document filed by federal prosecutors in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

"The Migratory Bird Treaty Act makes it unlawful for any person at any time by any means or in any manner to take or kill any migratory bird without a permit or as otherwise provided by regulation," it said.


The government identified brown pelicans, marbled murrelets and western grebes among the species of migratory birds killed by the oil spill.

Officials say no court date has been scheduled for Cota to enter a plea in the case. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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