The Petaluma bar pilot on board the container ship Cosco Busan when it struck the Bay Bridge earlier this month has been named in a class-action lawsuit by two fishermen who say the resulting oil spill caused ?profound? economic damage.
John Cota, 59, of Petaluma was on board the ship to guide it from the port of Oakland out to sea, a specialty of 60 ?bar pilots? who provide advice to foreign sailing crews unfamiliar with the waters of San Francisco Bay.
At 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 7, the ship struck a footing of the Bay Bridge, causing 58,000 gallons of fuel oil to spill, which later washed up on numerous beaches and killed or injured hundreds of birds.
In response, the start of crab season was indefinitely delayed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Commercial fishermen John Tarantino of Corte Madera and Steven Fitz of San Mateo County filed the suit in San Francisco Superior Court last week, naming Cota, the owners of the Cosco Busan and the employer of the Chinese crew, among others, as defendants.
The men are asking for financial and punitive damages, as well as the creation of a fund to pay for tests of Bay fish in future years.
Their lawsuit alleges the spill was the result of ?reckless indifference, inattention and mismanagement among those responsible for the control? of the ship.
Cota has made no public statements, but investigators for the National Transport-ation Safety Board said he told them that the radar aboard the ship failed as he approached the bridge in heavy fog, so Cota asked the Chinese captain to point out the center of the span on an electronic chart.
According to a transcript of the communications between the ship and the Coast Guard released by the NTSB, the Coast Guard radioed Cota at about 8:29 a.m. to say he was off course and asked, ?What are your intentions??
Cota replied that he was making a turn, saying, ?I?m coming around,? the transcript said. The Coast Guard confirmed with Cota that he intended to sail under the span of the Bay Bridge known as ?Delta-Echo,? and about two minutes later, he radioed to say he had ?touched? the bridge and would be anchoring the ship.
The apparent miscommunication between the ship?s captain and Cota over the electronic chart is now at the center of an ongoing investigation.
Ten U.S. House members held a hearing last week in San Francisco in which a Coast Guard admiral said human error is to blame for the crash.
?Something tragic must have taken place on board the ship,? Coast Guard Rear Adm. Craig Bone said. If the pilot and master ?had carried out their responsibilities, we wouldn?t be sitting here today.?