I-Team looks into pilot steering tanker when it hit bridge


Kleess had almost 30 years of maritime experience, most of it on oil tankers for Exxon, before becoming a San Francisco bar pilot in 2005. In 2010, his license was put on hold by the Board of Pilot Commissioners because federal regulators denied his request for a medical waiver. The details of his medical condition at the time are unknown, but, the issue was apparently resolved because he was guiding the tanker Monday morning.

Allen Garfinkle, executive director for the Board of Pilot Commissioners for the Bays of San Francisco, San Pablo, and Suisun, says Kleess has been tested for drugs and alcohol.

Dan Noyes: "When does he meet with your investigators?"
Allen Garfinkle: "That's to be be determined. That's an ongoing investigation."

In 2007, when the Cosco Busan hit the bridge, spilling more than 53,000 gallons of fuel oil, the medical condition of bar pilot John Cota appeared to have played a role. The National Transportation Safety Board found Cota "did not disclose to the US Coast Guard ... all of his medical conditions" and that one "probable cause" of the accident was "the pilot's degraded cognitive performance from his use of impairing prescription medication."

Now, Kleess is the one facing questions. He's scheduled to meet with the Coast Guard in the morning, and then will see investigators from the board of pilot commissioners.

Dan Noyes: "What sorts of issues will you look at?"
Allen Garfinkle: "We'll look if there was any pilot error or not."
Dan Noyes: "Any pilot error? Whether fog played a factor that sort of thing?"
Allen Garfinkle: "Yeah, of course, we'll look at all aspects of the investigation."

Bar pilots are an elite group; there are currently just 56 of them, with four trainees. They make about $450,000 a year. On the issue of the fog, the I-Team spoke with John Cota's attorney Monday. On this case, he said it appeared to him to be a clear morning and that the fog seemed to sweep in suddenly. So, perhaps it caught everyone off guard.

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