The owners of a container ship that crashed in San Francisco Bay, spilling 53,000 gallons of bunker fuel and causing widespread environmental damage, will pay $44.4 million to settle civil lawsuits with the government.

The money from Cosco Busan owners Regal Stone Limited and Fleet Management Ltd. will go toward restoring natural resources and reimbursing state and federal agencies that responded to the disaster.

The comprehensive settlement was announced Monday at Treasure Island in a joint news conference by state Attorney General Kamla Harris, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and local officials.

"This bay is the jewel of the San Francisco region and the Cosco Busan oil spill left a lasting scar across our water, natural habitats and wildlife," she said in a written statement. "This settlement will allow all of these precious resources to be restored to their original health and beauty."

The spill happened on Nov. 7, 2007, when the cargo ship Cosco Busan, piloted by John Cota, 63, of Petaluma, struck a fender of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Bunker fuel that poured from the damaged hull killed thousands of birds and fish while disrupting commercial fishing along miles of coastline.

Cota, who is married to Petaluma City Councilmember Teresa Barrett, was sentenced to 10 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor violation of the Clean Water Act. Fleet Management also pleaded guilty to a felony obstruction charge and two other counts and paid $10 million in fines.

— Paul Payne, The Press Democrat