US Coast Guard : Cosco Busan Pilot "Incompetent"

 allision, collision, competence, competency, pilotage  Comments Off on US Coast Guard : Cosco Busan Pilot "Incompetent"
Dec 112007

John J. Cota, who was the pilot aboard the Cosco Busan when it contacted the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge has been asked to surrender his Merchant Marine Officer’s license to the US Coast Guard.

An announcement from the Coast Guard says:

C”oast Guard Sector San Francisco has requested Capt. John J. Cota to voluntarily deposit his Federal Merchant Marine Officer’s license with the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard believes he is not physically competent to maintain the license.

Capt. Cota was the ship’s pilot, operating under the authority of a State of California pilot’s license, at the time of the incident.

Voluntary deposit is an administrative procedure used in cases where there is evidence of mental or physical incompetence. The mariner deposits his license with the Coast Guard on condition that the Coast Guard will not return it until the Coast Guard receives satisfactory evidence that the mariner is considered fit for full duty without qualification, and the mariner initiates action to regain his credentials. This gives the Coast Guard an assurance that the mariner is not working as a vessel pilot or officer.

If Capt. Cota refuses to voluntarily deposit his Federal Merchant Marine Officer’s license, the Coast Guard has the option to charge Capt. Cota with incompetence and request a hearing before an administrative law judge to seek suspension or revocation of his license.”

Captain Cota is currently facing charges of misconduct from the  the Board of Pilot Commissioners for the Bays of San Francisco, San Pablo and Suisun.

 Posted by at 10:41  Tagged with: , ,

Maritime Safety News Today – 2nd December 2007

 collision, grounding, oil, oil spill, piracy, Sinking  Comments Off on Maritime Safety News Today – 2nd December 2007
Dec 032007

Trawler damaged in collision with tanker
Melbourne Herald Sun – Australia
A FISHING trawler with two men aboard has returned to port after its skipper reported the vessel had collided with a tanker off the Sunshine Coast,

Somali pirates free Comoran ship and sailors: US
A US-led maritime task force made of Italy, the Netherlands and Britain is conducting counter-piracy operations off the volatile Horn of Africa.

Two rescued as fishing boat sinks
BBC News – UK
Two men have been rescued from their fishing boat after it began sinking off the isle of Skye. The Spesnova went down six miles north east of Portree on

Pirate Mother Ship Hunt Off Somali Coast
The Associated Press –
“The small boats which are used for piracy could not travel” from shore as far into the ocean as ships have been attacked, said Commodore Khan Hasham of

Authorities mull plan to shift grounded ship
ABC Online – Australia
The accident happened as the vessel was approaching its designated berth after arriving from Weipa in Cape York in the state’s far north. A Maritime Safety

San Francisco Bay oil spill: State suspends pilot’s license
San Jose Mercury News – CA, USA
That could lead to sanctions or the revocation of Cota’s license. of the collision. The US Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board haven’t
US sues ship and pilot for San Francisco spill
Reuters – USA
The collision created a 100-foot (30-metre) gash in the ship’s hull and its fuel spilled into the bay. As the oil traveled into the Pacific Ocean,

 Posted by at 16:34  Tagged with:

New Podcast – The Case Of The Confused Pilot

 grounding, pilotage, podcast  Comments Off on New Podcast – The Case Of The Confused Pilot
Nov 282007

Pilotage and bridge team management have come to the fore this month with the allison between the Cosco Busan and the San Francisco-Oakland Bridge so the latest MAC episode, The Case Of The Confused Pilot is a timely reminder of the issues at stake.

Check out the podcast.home page at for the audio podcast, the illustrated transcript is under construction and will be available by the weekend.

Nov 152007

Once the US National Transportation Safety Board has produced the transcripts of the voyage data recorder from the Cosco Busan (Formerly the Hanjin Cairo, the Hanjin name remains on the ship side) we’ll have a better idea of who said what to whom and when. Currently only the pilot’s version of events is available and it is raising a number of questions.

A malfunctioning radar appears to have been an element, though not the cause, of the incident and so far there has been no indication regarding the second radar on the ship’s bridge. Given that there was poor visibility, was the speed of the vessel excessive? Should departure have been delayed until the fog cleared.

The pilot was not familiar with the ECDIS equipment onboard, which does not appear to have malfunctioned. When the pilot asked the Captain to point out the centre of the bridge span the captain allegedly pointed to the bridge support and the pilot navigated accordingly.

With an apparently malfunctioning radar and a lack of familiarity with the primary method of navigation,  did the pilot seek to confirm the vessels position with the VTS and/or the accompanying tug?

VTS informed the pilot that the ship was off course, which the Pilot disputed and shortly afterwards a lookout shouted a warning that there was a bridge support ahead and the vessel went hard right and allided with the Delta bridge support.

There also appears to have been a lack of detail in the master/pilot exchange when the latter took conduct of the vessel, as the pilot’s lawyer admits. Would the missing information have been enought to prevent the incident?

There may also have been communications problems between the American pilot and the bridge team who were Chinese. Of there were, to what extent did they reduce the pilot and the bridge team’s situational awareness?

It is not uncommon for pilots to ‘go it alone’ rather than work with a bridge team with whom communication is problematic. This increases the workload on the pilot and reduces his situational awareness. Had the pilot and the bridge team undergone bridge team/bridge rsource management training?

Incidents such as this rarely have a single cause, or a single responsible individual. They are usually the result of systemic problems with Bridge Team Management, leadership, culture and navigational practices.

It will be a while before we know the full story of the Cosco Busan, but we’ll hit that bridge when we get to it.

Nov 122007

The Cosco Busan after the allision (Source, USCG)

Conspiracy theorists might suggest that last Wednesday’s fog-bound collision,properly called an allision, between the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and the containership Cosco Busan with one of 60 San Francisco Bay Area pilots aboard was a publicity stunt for the curiously well-timed release of the American P&I Club’s DVD, Stranger On The Bridge, scheduled this week. All that is certain is that the bridge is probably the only participant whose career will not be blighted, but the bridge declines to comment on the advice of its lawyers.

In fact, while the DVD was in production last year the International Group of P&I Clubs, which represents 13 of the major shipowner protection and indemnity organisations published the results of a study into incidents involving vessels under the conduct of a pilot. In a period when maritime accidents generally declined, those involving pilots seem to be intractable.

Over a five year period there were 262 claims from incidents that occurred when there was a pilot on board at an average cost of around $850,00. There were 68 collisons at a hefty average of $800,000 apiece which pales against the two collisions a year costing almost $8m each. Pollution incidents, at around two a year, toted up $1.8 per incident.

Incidents involving fixed and floating objects like that of the Cosco Busan, logged a whopping average of 37 a year at a hit of $400,000 each, around $100,000 less, by the way than the annual salary of a Bay Area pilot.

Two cases, one a collision and the other the collapse of a shore crane, involved seafarer and shoreworker fatalities. Pilots didn’t escape the grisly toll, either; in 2005 alone, according to the International Pilots Association, six lost their lives boarding or disembarking vessels.

There are many direct causes for these incidents: pilot fatigue, poor bridge resource management, miscommunications, loss of situational awareness, bad decisions but all dance to same piper – the relationship between the pilot and the bridge team.

One must certainly wonder how a ship 44 metres wide should come to grief in a channel 737 metres wide, tearing a hole 33 metres long by 4 metres wide in its side but would be inappropriate to pass judgment until all the information is in. Even then it is likely to be controversial. The US National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation will itself be under close scrutiny following recent criticisms of its performance by a former senior executive. Another investigation by the US Coast Guard may be seen to be tainted by the need to answer allegations of a tardy response to the resultant 58,000 gallon spill of bunker oil. Reports by the shipowner’s P&I club will probably not be made publicly available in detail, the flag state investigation will take longer. The there will be the Bay Area VTS and the Board of Pilot Commissioners.


Hovering like a dark cloud over the proceedings will be the issue of the possible criminal liability of those on the bridge, predominantly Chinese nationals, the pilot and the ship’s bridge team. Insurance will cover the cost of damages but ship’s officers, the master especially, may well be looking at imprisonment, not a great career move and, of course, a disincentive to becoming an officer in the first place.

Strictly speaking, the pilot is only an advisor and the master, who is responsible for the safe navigation of the vessel, can choose to accept or reject that advice. In reality, few deep sea masters have extensive ship-handling experience and depend on the pilot, who usually has far more knowledge.

Jockeying for innocence has already started. Part of a three-page statement by the pilot, Captain John Cota, to the USCG has been released to the press by his lawyer who blames the bridge team. Says the lawyer: “There was a big difference between what he ordered and the heading that the ship took.”

At the same time, documents from the Board of Pilot Commissioners show that although Captain Cota had an excellent reputation as a ship handler he had been involved in four previous incidents, one involving the grounding of a bulker 2006, and one involving an aircraft carrier in 2003, and had been counselled on several occasions.

So far there have been no suggestions of electrical or mechanical failure which strongly indicates a fault in bridge resource management.

Under the microscope will be whether the pilot gave the correct commands, whether the bridge officers correctly received those commands, whether the orders passed on to the helmsman were those of the pilot and whether the helmsman correctly understood those commands and responded appropriately to them.

There is, in fact, nothing special about the Cosco Busan incident, it just happened to occur in a rich state of a rich country with well-heeled lawyers and a, rightly, vociferous, media. There will be a liability witch hunt fuelled by inflated damage claims, there can be no doubt, lawyers want to feather their nests as much as anyone else.

Right now the greatest danger doesn’t come from the 58,000 gallons of spilled bunker along the California coast, but from the danger that the witch hunt to find one man to take the blame will obscure the real problem of the apparently intractable number of incidents involving ships under pilotage. Resolving that issue will take more than hot air and regulation, it will require paying attention to how decisions are made within the curious environment of the master/pilot relationship and social engineering to make that relationship work.