Captain John Cota, the pilot aboard the Cosco Busan when it made contact with the Delta tower of the San Francisco-Oakland Bridge on 7 November 2007, has been found responsible for the accident through misconduct. Some 120,000 litres of bunker were spilled, the ship suffered a 70 metre by four metre gash in its hull. Six crewmembers of the Cosco Busan have been detained without charges since the incident pending a criminal trial scheduled for November in which Cota and the ship’s manager, Fleet, are to be defendants.
The Incident Review Committee of The Board of Pilot Commissioners For San Francisco, San Pablo and Suisun, concluded that Captain Cota, prior to getting underway, failed to utilize all available resources to determine visibility conditions along his intended route when it was obvious that he would have to make the transit to sea in significantly reduced visibility; That he exhibited significant concerns about the condition of the ship’s radar and a lack of familiarity with the ship’s electronic chart system, but then failed to properly take those concerns into account in deciding to proceed; That, considering the circumstances of reduced visibility and what Captain Cota did and did not know about the ship and the conditions along his intended route, he failed to exercise sound judgment in deciding to get underway; That he failed to ensure that his plans for the transit and how to deal with the conditions of reduced visibility had been clearly communicated and discussed with the master; That, once underway, he proceeded at an unsafe speed for the conditions of visibility; That, when he began making his approach to the Bay Bridge, he noted further reduced visibility and then reportedly lost confidence with the ship’s radar. While he could have turned south to safe anchorage to await improved visibility or to determine what, if anything was wrong with the radar, he failed to exercise sound judgment and instead continued on the intended transit of the M/V Cosco Busan, relying solely on an electronic chart system with which he was unfamiliar; and that Captain Cota failed to utilize all available resources to determine his position before committing the ship to its transit under the Bay Bridge.
The board investigation did not have the authority to examine or comment on whether others on the bridge at the time shared responsibility. One of the most common elements in incidents to ships under pilotage is poor bridge resource management. The report comments: “As Captain Cota approached the Bay Bridge, visibility began to deteriorate. (he) still had the option of utilizing VTS to fix his position and/or abandon the transit and use the availability of Anchorage 8 or 9. In addition, he had the availability of crew members to fix the vessel’s position, and potentially the vessel’s lookouts to identify any structures. None of these resources were utilized. Instead, Captain Cota continued to rely exclusively on resources in which he had limited or no confidence.”
At the time of the incident the master of the Cosco Busan, Captain Sun, and his crew had been aboard the vessel for just two weeks.
In June this year Captain Cota surrendered his California state pilot licence and retired as of 1 October. Says the report: “It should also be noted that, as Captain Cota has turned in his state pilot license and retired, this matter did not go through a full evidentiary hearing before an administrative law judge. Accordingly, this report reflects only the findings and conclusions of the IRC without having afforded the pilot an opportunity to test the evidence relied upon by the IRC in an administrative hearing. Furthermore, because of ongoing litigation, many witnesses were inaccessible. Under the Board’s regulations, this report by the IRC is nevertheless required.”
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