WASHINGTON, March 17 The pilot of a container
ship that hit the San Francisco Bay Bridge last year and
spilled 58,000 gallons of oil was charged on Monday with
violating federal pollution laws.
John Cota, who was licensed to navigate ships through the
bay's challenging waters, negligently caused the discharge that
killed 2,000 birds including endangered Brown Pelicans, the
Department of Justice announced.
His attorney responded that the criminal charges were
premature and that a federal safety investigation was
Cota was charged with one violation each of the Clean Water
Act and Migratory Bird Act. If convicted, he faces fines or
sentences of up to 18 months in prison and.
Cota was piloting the container ship Costa Buscan when it
struck the Bay Bridge on Nov. 7, 2007.
"While piloting the ship from port in heavy fog, he failed
to pilot a collision-free course and failed to adequately
review the proposed course with the Captain and crew on
official navigational charts," the Justice Department said.
Cota's attorney, Jeff Bornstein, called the charges
regrettable and unfortunate.
"Captain Cota is a qualified, experienced pilot, who has
worked on the San Francisco Bay for almost 27 years. He
literally has safely assisted thousands of ships in and out of
the Bay throughout his career," Bornstein said in a statement.
"We strongly believe that once all of the evidence is
heard, a jury will find in Captain Cota's favor," he said.
(Reporting by Randall Mikkelsen, editing by Philip Barbara)