Cosco Busan spill report expected

February 16, 2009 12:49:29 PM PST
The National Transportation Safety Board will give the public its first look Wednesday at the findings of the board's investigation into a 53,000-gallon oil spill from a container ship into the San Francisco Bay in 2007.

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Shortly after holding a final public hearing in Washington, D.C., on the spill from the Cosco Busan, the board will post a summary of its report on its Web site, NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson said.

The ship, while on its way from the Port of Oakland to South Korea, spilled more than 53,000 gallons of heavy bunker fuel into the Bay after hitting a protective fender of a Bay Bridge support tower in heavy fog on Nov. 7, 2007.

The NTSB said the spill contaminated about 26 miles of shoreline, killed more than 2,500 birds of about 50 species, temporarily closed a fishery on the Bay and delayed the start of the crab-fishing season.

Environmental cleanup costs are estimated at more than $70 million.

Knudson said that at Wednesday's hearing, board members will have a chance to ask final questions of investigators who have been looking into the accident. The session is expected to last several hours.

The spokesman said that 30 to 40 minutes after the close of the hearing, the board will post a three- to six-page summary of its report online.

The summary will have three parts: a factual description of the events, an analysis of the probable cause of the accident and safety recommendations.

The board's final report will be made public several weeks later.

Knudson said that under federal law, the board's analysis of the cause of the spill can't be used as evidence in criminal or civil cases stemming from the accident. He said the reason is that the purpose of the board's probes is to develop recommendations for improving safety in the future.

Only the board's factual description of the events of the accident could be cited in a legal case, Knudson said.

Pilot John Cota, 60, of Petaluma, and the ship's operator, Hong Kong-based Fleet Management Ltd., both face federal criminal charges of negligently polluting the Bay during the spill, killing federally protected birds and making false statements.

U.S. District Judge Susan Illston is due to hold a status conference on the criminal case in her San Francisco courtroom on Feb. 27.

In addition, more than half a dozen civil lawsuits have been filed in federal and state courts by government agencies, fishermen, an insurance company and the ship's owners.

A live and archived webcast of Wednesday's hearing before the NTSB will be available on the board's Web site at http://www.ntsb.gov/Events/Boardmeeting.htm

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