Cosco Busan pilot record request turned down

February 17, 2009 1:29:05 PM PST
A federal judge in San Francisco today turned down a bid by a ship management company to obtain state pilot records dating back to 1993 as part of its defense against criminal charges stemming from a 2007 oil spill.

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U.S. District Judge Susan Illston said the documents sought by Hong Kong-based Fleet Management Ltd. were not relevant because the company's reason for asking for them was "fundamentally flawed."

Fleet Management was operating the Cosco Busan, including having hired its Chinese crew, when the container ship hit a fender of a Bay Bridge support tower and spilled more than 53,000 gallons of oil into the San Francisco Bay on Nov. 7, 2007.

Fleet Management and pilot John Cota, 60, of Petaluma, both face federal criminal charges of negligently polluting the Bay and killing migratory birds in connection with the accident. Fleet Management is also accused of falsifying transit documents after the accident.

The company and Cota are due to go on trial in Illston's court on April 6.

Fleet Management sought the records from the state Board of Pilot Commissioners to support its defense theory that the board and the U.S. Coast Guard were at fault for allowing Cota to pilot the ship. The company alleges Cota had a history of substance abuse and medical problems.

The records sought included monthly reports on all Bay pilots dating back to 1993, reports on drug tests performed on Cota during mandatory exams and information about the temporary grounding of a ship piloted by Cota in the Sacramento River in 2006.

But Illston said in a written ruling that Fleet Management's defense theory was flawed. She said that even if other government agencies are proved to be partly responsible, Fleet Management could still also be found responsible for its own part in the accident.

The state board and Cota had argued that the old documents were irrelevant.

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