Cosco Busan crew want to go home

May 5, 2008 7:28:26 PM PDT
It's been six months since the Cosco Busan hit the Bay Bridge and spilled tons of oil. It's been six months in limbo for six members of the Chinese crew forced to stay in the Bay Area all this time, even though none of them are facing any charges. The crew asked a federal judge on Monday to let them go home.

The crew have been detained as witnesses in the case. Their attorneys came to court on Monday, arguing on their behalf, asking the judge to allow them to go home by the end of this month.

The ship, the Cosco Busan, is long gone. Left behind are the impacts of the oil spill on the bay and six crew members. They were ordered to stay in San Francisco and are living in the upscale Marina neighborhood. Some of the crew spend their days in Chinatown, others are taking English classes. They all want to go home.

"Their families are in China, their jobs are in China, their lives are in China, not San Francisco," says Attorney Douglas Schwartz, for the Chinese Captain, Mao Cai Sun.

Schwartz has filed a motion asking that Sun be allowed to leave. None of the Chinese crew is charged with any crime. The government says they are witnesses in the case against the ship's pilot John Cota. Cota is accused of negligence and other federal crimes for last November's crash into the Bay Bridge. His attorney wants the crew to stay in this country until Cota's trial, which as not been scheduled yet.

"We believe there were key mistakes and key errors that people made on board that ship that caused or contributed to this incident and we deserve and our client, more importantly, deserves the opportunity to confront and cross examine these witnesses," says Jeff Bornstien, Cota's attorney.

However, an immigrant right's attorney doesn't believe the crew should be forced to stay here indefinitely.

"The law says that the authorities may keep someone for a reasonable amount of time, so the question is 'What is reasonable?' In my opinion, more than six months is not reasonable," says Mark Silverman, from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.

In a hearing at the Federal Courthouse on Monday, the judge also expressed concerns. He decided three of the crewmen who weren't on the ship's bridge with Cota at the time of the accident will tape their testimony, perhaps by the end of the month, and then presumably be allowed to leave. The other three are still in legal limbo, including Attorney Schwartz's client.

"Anytime anybody's personal liberty is curtailed, I think it's a significant situation," says Schwartz.

The ships owner has been paying the rent for the crew to stay at that Marina apartment, but that is expected to end on May 31st. It's unclear who will pick up the tab after that. All of the parties are expected to come back next Monday for anther hearing.


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