Every Bird Matters
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Posts Tagged ‘John Cota’

July 18, 2009

Cosco Busan ship pilot gets 10 months in jail

This week a federal judge finally sentenced the ship pilot to 10 months in prison for his responsibility in the 2007 Cosco Busan oil spill in the San Francisco Bay that caused widespread bird deaths.

Capt. John Cota, 61, of Petaluma, CA is the first ship’s pilot in U.S. maritime history to be sent to prison for a shipping accident.

During a brief statement at the end of the hourlong hearing in Federal court Friday, Cota apologized to the judge and the public for the harm he had caused.

“Pilots view themselves as protectors of the environment,” he was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle story. “That’s why it is painful to have played a role in an accident that has damaged it.”

The ship’s pilot was helping guide the Cosco Busan container ship out of San Francisco Bay when it struck the SF Bay Bridge in heavy fog on an early morning in November 2007. More than 50,000 gallons of bunker crude spilled into the bay and spread to area beaches.

In sentencing Cota, Judge Illston told him the jail time reflects lawmakers efforts to punish criminally negiligent parties following the horrific Exxon Valdez spill.

Following the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill of 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound, Alaska, the tanker’s captain, Joseph Hazelwood, was fined only $50,000 but did’t spent any time in jail.

During the Cosco Busan spill thousands of birds were killed by the fast spreading spill. IBRRC working with the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN), helped rescue and rehabilitate more than 420 birds that were returned to the wild.

Read more: San Francisco Chronicle story

Also see: After the Cosco Busan spill

March 7, 2009

Cosco Busan pilot boat captain pleads guilty

The Cosco Busan pilot boat captain has finally pleaded guilty this week to federal water pollution charges in an plea agreement that will force him to serve up to 10 months in prison.

Capt. John Cota, admitted that he made serious mistakes in piloting the Cosco Busan container ship through heavy fog Nov. 7, 2007. The 900 foot ship struck the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Bridge spilling 53,000 gallons of its bunker crude oil.

Cota has also admitted to not telling authorities that he was using prescription drugs when he renewed his maritime pilot’s licenses in 2006 and 2007.

The guilty plea “is a reminder that the Cosco Busan crash was not just an accident, but a criminal act,” Justice Department official John Cruden said in a statement. “This is not a case involving a mere mistake.”

Cota’s defense attorney, isn’t buying all the charges and says: “An incompetent, untrained crew and mistakes by the Coast Guard” contributed heavily to the accident.

The spill caused widespread deaths to birds in the SF Bay. IBRRC was one of the lead oiled bird responders on the spill that stretched from Marin County beaches to Alameda County and Contra Costa County shorelines. More bird treatment info

Read more: San Francisco Chronicle story

March 18, 2008

Pilot captain in Cosco Busan oil spill charged

The pilot boat captain responsible for helping navigate the container ship Cosco Busan that struck the San Francisco Bay Bridge and spilling thousands of gallons of oil that ultimately killed 2,500 birds, has been charged in federal court.

On Monday, Capt. John J. Cota of Petaluma was charged with two environmental laws, including violating the Clean Water Act through criminal negligence and of killing birds, a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

The 60 year-old Cota was in charge of navigating the 901-foot container ship out of San Francisco Bay on the morning of November 7, 2007 when it ran into the Bay Bridge in heavy fog. More than 50,000 gallons of bunker crude oil spewed out of the side of the ship. The oil spill closed beaches, coated birds with toxic crude and left a swath of oil from Oakland estuaries to Richardson Bay to outside the Golden Gate Bridge.

IBRRC’s Executive Director, Jay Holcomb issued a statement yesterday after the charges came down in San Francisco:

“We are happy to hear that the Federal government is taking the Cosco Busan oil spill disaster seriously, said Holcomb. “We hope that the pilot of the ship will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law and send the message that in this day and age this kind of preventable accident is unacceptable.”

In the meantime, Cota had his pilot’s license suspended by a state pilot commission after it concluded that “pilot error” was the cause of the crash.

The bird rescue center helped treat hundreds of birds after the spill. Over 421 were cleaned of oil, banded and released back into the wild. IBRRC depends on the public’s support for all its year-round bird rehabilitation programs. Donate

Read more:

San Francisco Chronicle story

Video report:

Associated Press story from YouTube