Schwarzenegger signs Bay Area harbor pilot oversight bill
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed a bill designed to provide stricter oversight of a state board that licenses, monitors and investigates harbor pilots guiding oceangoing vessels into California's Bay Area ports.
The new law creates state administrative oversight of the Board of Pilot Commission by:
' Placing the board under authority of the state's Business, Transportation and Housing Agency.
' Requiring comprehensive financial and performance audits of the board, which have not been done.
' Providing new tools to the commission to ensure more comprehensive investigations of incidents involving state-licensed pilots.
' Detailing which records must be maintained by the board, including safety violations.
The law also provides $350,000 in annual funding, to be collected from private fees levied on the maritime community, to cover costs of conducting the required annual state audit.
Despite signing the SB1217 bill into law, Schwarzenegger found fault in several items removed from the bill during the legislative process.
'The bill does not provide the Secretary of BTH with adequate means to facilitate control of the board or alter its current operations,' said the governor in a signing statement Monday. 'In addition, despite the clean-up efforts, it appears that much of the statute providing the board with the authority to license, monitor and discipline pilots is outdated or poorly drafted resulting in numerous ambiguities. These problems could hinder the ability of the agency to efficiently run the board were it to be placed under the oversight of BTH.'
The new law, sponsored through the Legislature by numerous shipping industry and environmental organizations, grew out of the November 2007 collision of the container vessel COSCO Busan with the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Damage to the vessel caused more than 50,000 gallons of bunker fuel to be spilled into the bay, resulting in millions of dollars in clean-up and impact costs.
The harbor pilot on the bridge of the Busan at the time of the collision, Capt. John Cota, has been charged with federal felony charges stemming from the accident and resulting investigation. Civil cases against Cota are also pending.
The state Board of Pilot Commissioners, a quasi-autonomous board charged with licensing state harbor pilots for San Francisco, San Pablo and Suisan bays, was criticized following the accident for not taking more serious actions against Cota for incidents prior to the Busan collision.
The bill was sponsored by the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association and supported by California Trade Coalition, the Ocean Conservancy, SF Bar Pilots Association, Baykeeper, and Save the Bay.
'Senate Bill 1217 will help protect our San Francisco Bay from future environmental disasters,” said Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, bill author, in a statement. 'The COSCO Busan oil spill was devastating for our region and reiterated the need to improve the response in future disasters.'