Cosco Busan owners sue pilots association

November 10, 2008 7:01:44 PM PST
Yet another lawsuit has been filed over the Cosco Busan oil spill that occurred a year ago spilling 54,000 gallons of oil into the Bay. This time the ship's pilot is not the only target.

The ill-fated Cosco Busan is owned by shipping company Regal Stone Limited. The company is being held responsible for more than $80 million worth of response and cleanup costs.

Last Friday, on the one-year anniversary of the oil spill, Regal Stone filed a lawsuit against pilot John Cota, the San Francisco Bar Pilots Association, Association President Peter McIsaac, and member Russell Nyborg.

The suit says that not only Cota, but also the association, knew or should have known that Cota had a prior DUI conviction and suffered from medical conditions making him unfit to pilot, yet they took no action to prevent him from piloting.

They also contend that given the extraordinarily foggy conditions McIsaac should have closed the Bay to vessel traffic.

Regal Stone wants more than damages.

"We're trying to get at the honest root causes so what needs to get done gets done," said a spokesperson.

The Bar Pilots Association issued a statement saying in part that it did not find out about Cota's DUI until after the accident, although the Coast Guard knew before.

The association also says, "the ultimate and proper authority regarding fitness of bar pilots rests with the U.S. Coast Guard," adding that "McIsaac had no authority to prevent vessel traffic that day."

The bar pilots and the board that regulates them have operated without state oversight for about 150 years.

"One of the lessons learned by everybody involved, who participated in the response, or witnessed it, was that we needed more accountability and more transparency," says John McLaurin of the Pacific Merchants Shipping Association.

The Pacific Merchants Shipping Association says changes are on the way. The governor signed a law taking effect in January requiring that the Pilots Licensing Board be audited by the state.

"He indicated that improvements needed to be made, the system was antiquated, and this was a first step and that more changes needed to take place," said McLaurin.

The Coast Guard could not be reached for comment and Cota's attorney says he cannot comment until he could reads the suit.


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