Cosco Busan pilot takes aggressive strategy


John Cota's lawyers claim the government is making him the scapegoat.

If John Cota's career had gone as planned, he might not have been on dry land on Friday, nor would we know him as the bar pilot accused of criminal negligence for driving the Cosco Busan into the Bay Bridge and spilling 53,000 gallons of oil.

On Friday, his lawyers took up the offense.

"We think the government is unfairly focused and scapegoating Captain Cota for what happened. That there are many issues and many factors that are involved in this," said the attorney for Captain John Cota Jeff Bornstein.

Cota came to federal district court to set a trial date. Outside, his lawyers released a letter to the National Transportation Safety Board, saying he will take the fifth in a hearing next week, but there was much more.

The letter questions competency of the master and crew of the Cosco Busan. It also criticizes the coast guard and its vessel traffic service. Should it have warned of heavy fog?

And the letter makes some surprising accusations.

"Instead of providing additional information, helpful information, they were taking amongst themselves about betting or what the odds are that the ship will hit the bridge," said Bornstein.

The Coast Guard had a ready response saying: "there is no report or information to support such rumors. Pilots and masters at all times are responsible for safe navigation of their vessels."

That is not-so-small technicality noted by environmentalists at San Francisco Baykeeper.

"What is key here is that you shouldn't take a 900 foot ship into the bay with 300 foot visibility," said Executive Director San Francisco Baykeeper Deb Self.

As of now, the case will begin jury selection on May 27th. Captain Cota and his lawyer have asked for as early a case as possible.

The principal reason: The captain is paying for his own defense.

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