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American Shipper

U.S. Coast Guard: COSCO Busan pilot ?not physically competent?

U.S. Coast Guard: COSCO Busan pilot ônot physically competentö

The U.S. Coast Guard believes the Bay Area pilot onboard a container vessel when it disgorged nearly 60,000 gallons of fuel oil in San Francisco Bay after sideswiping the Bay Bridge last month is not physically competent to maintain his federal pilot's license.

   The Coast Guard on Friday asked Capt. John Cota, the local pilot aboard the COSCO Busan when it hit a concrete footing of the Bay Bridge on Nov. 7 in heavy fog, to voluntarily turn over his Federal Merchant Marine Officer's license. Cota was not operating under the FMMO license when the COSCO Busan incident occurred, but instead was operating under his California pilots' license. The state's Pilot Commission for the Bays of San Francisco, San Pablo and Suisun suspended Cota's California piloting license last week.

   According to a release issued by the Coast Guard regarding Cota, the agency said it 'believes he is not physically competent to maintain the license.'

   Friday's request is part of a Coast Guard administrative procedure where the agency believes there is evidence of mental or physical incompetence. The agency holds the requested license until the pilot provides 'satisfactory evidence' that the pilot is considered fit for full duty without limitations, according to a Coast Guard statement. Pulling the license assures the agency that the pilot will not work as a pilot or officer aboard a vessel until the requirements of reinstatement are met.

   If Cota refuses to voluntarily turn over his FMMO license, the Coast Guard can charge him with incompetence and request a hearing before an administrative law judge to seek permanent suspension or revocation of his license.

   Cota and three Chinese officers of the 5,500-TEU COSCO Busan were aboard the vessel's bridge when it struck the bridge footing, tearing open two of the vessel fuel tanks and spilling the fuel oil into the bay.

   While Cota has claimed that the two radar systems aboard the Busan gave him faulty information while the vessel was under way, the Coast Guard has said its officer later found no mechanical problems with the vessel or its navigational equipment.

   The National Transportation Safety Board, conducting its own investigation into the accident, also said its investigators could find no problems with the vessel's radar systems.

   Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad Allen said last month, without singling out an individual, the cause of the incident was human error.

   Cota, with more than 25 years of experience as a Bay Area pilot, has appeared before the state's Pilot Commission several times during his career, according to state documents. Most recently, Cota was reprimanded last summer following the grounding of a bulker near the Antioch docks in February 2006. Cota also received a 'letter of concern' over a San Francisco Bay incident involving a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier in 2003.

   Port pilots are government licensed and paid by the shipping lines through pilotage fees. Pilots board the vessels before they enter the harbor, or leave with the vessel and are picked up outside the harbor. Bay Area pilots, who average $491,000 a year, are able to give orders while piloting a vessel, but by regulation are still subordinate and can be overruled by the vessel's captain. The vessel's helmsman translates the pilot's recommendations into control inputs for the vessel.

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