Cosco Busan captain John Cota retires

July 2, 2008 2:56:30 PM PDT
The executive director of a state pilot commission in San Francisco confirmed today that John Cota, pilot of a ship that spilled nearly 54,000 gallons of oil in the San Francisco Bay last year, will retire as of Oct. 1.

Capt. Patrick Moloney is executive director of the Board of Pilot Commissioners for the bays of San Francisco, San Pablo and Suisun. The commission regulates 60 pilots who guide ships in the local bays.

Moloney said he received notice of Cota's impending retirement on Tuesday. He said the retirement may lead to cancellation of a September commission hearing on whether Cota's state license should be revoked.

Moloney said, "We're in the process of getting a stipulation out" for cancellation of the hearing.

The commission hearing was set to begin on Sept. 2 and to take 15 working days. Cota's state license to pilot ships in the bay had been suspended pending the hearing.

Cota, 60, of Petaluma, was piloting the Cosco Busan when it struck a protective fender at the base of the Bay Bridge on Nov. 7 and sustained a gash through which nearly 54,000 gallons of heavy bunker fuel spilled into the bay.

In December, Cota voluntarily surrendered his federal license to the U.S. Coast Guard. The federal license was a prerequisite for the local state license, Moloney said.

Cota also faces four federal criminal charges in connection with the incident -- two felony counts of making false statements on medical forms submitted to the Coast Guard and two misdemeanor counts of negligently polluting the bay and killing migratory birds.

He is tentatively scheduled to go to trial on those charges in the court of U.S. District Judge Susan Illston in San Francisco in October.

On July 18, Illston will hold a hearing on motions by Cota for dismissal of three of the four charges.


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