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Source: (AHN)Reporter: Kris Alingod
September 20, 2011 08:23 am EDT
Owners and operators of the ship that crashed into the San Francisco Bay Bridge in 2007, causing an oil spill that killed nearly 30 percent of the bay’s annual herring spawn and closed 50 beaches to recreation and fishing, have agreed to pay $44 million to settle a civil lawsuit from federal and state officials.
Regal Stone and Fleet Management, the owners and operators of the Cosco Busan, signed a consent decree requiring them to reimburse the government for response costs after the disaster. The companies must also pay for penalties and damages, including $18.8 million for lost human uses of beaches.
“This settlement marks an excellent collaboration of agencies at all levels to restore and preserve San Francisco Bay,” said Bruce Wolfe, the executive officer of the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board. “But it also reminds us that the amount of oil spilled in this incident is the equivalent of what automobile traffic deposits in the bay every year. All of us, as stewards of the Bay, must be diligent in doing all we can to protect it.”
Regal Stone and Fleet Management have not issued a statement about the settlement.
The Cosco Busan crashed into a tower on the western part of the Bay Bridge on Nov. 7, 2007, spilling 53,000 gallons of fuel into the bay. The bridge did not sustain major damage and remained structurally safe but wildlife was severely affected and more than 1 million recreational user-days were lost along the shoreline.
Nearly 7,000 birds died from the spill, including marbled murrelets, which are listed as endangered worldwide. The accident also delayed crab season and killed 14 to 29 percent of the herring spawn the following winter.
According to officials, the 810-foot cargo ship had departed in heavy fog at an unsafe speed. The crew failed to prepare an adequate route before departure as required, and did not properly operate the electronic chart system. In addition, workers manning the vessel did not use the radar on their final approach to the Bay Bridge.
The consent decree, announced Monday by U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and California Attorney General Kamala Harris, is the largest settlement under the 1990 Oil Pollution Act. It comes two years after Hong Kong-based Fleet Management agreed to pay a $10 million fine as part of its plea agreement in the government’s criminal case.
Under the plea agreement, the company admitted to violating the Oil Pollution Act, committing felony obstruction of justice and making false statements. Fleet’s on-shore supervisors created a fake berth-to-berth passage plan during the day of the crash. In addition, a ship officer falsified the vessel’s navigational chart to show fixes that were not documented during the route.
Cosco Busan’s captain, John Cota, was sentenced to 10 months in prison after pleading guilty plea in 2009. He was also charged with violating the Oil Pollution Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
False statement charges against the captain were dismissed but he had said in his plea agreement that he had failed to disclose that Vicodin, Zoloft and Tylenol 4 were part of his medications at the time of the collision.