Pilot pleads guilty in San Francisco Bay accident
John Joseph Cota, a California ship pilot, pleaded guilty on Friday to negligently causing the discharge of approximately 53,000 gallons of oil into San Francisco Bay when the COSCO Busan hit the San Francisco Bay Bridge on Nov. 7, 2007.
Cota pleaded guilty to violating both the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, a law enacted in the wake of the Exxon Valdez disaster, as well as violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for the death of protected migratory birds.
If the plea terms are accepted by U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston, Cota will be sentenced to serve two to 10 months in prison and be fined $3,000 to $30,000. The exact sentence will be determined by the court. The plea also requires Cota to serve up to one year of supervised release during which he will not serve as a ship pilot or ship captain. Sentencing has been scheduled for June 19.
“Today’s guilty plea is a reminder that the COSCO Busan crash was not just an accident, but a criminal act,” said John C. Cruden, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This is not a case involving a mere mistake.'
Joseph Russoniello, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, said, “This case should sound an alert to those in the maritime industry that safety rules and procedures are meant to be followed, safety equipment is expected to be used, and that those who act otherwise and despoil our natural wonders will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”