Cosco Busan Detainees – Where are the T-Shirts?

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May 052008
 

(Note: a technical glitch re-sent this post on RSS feeds in March 2012. Please be aware this was published in May 2008 and is no longer current. However, issue of seafarer detention remains an issue)

Nobody’s wearing any t-shirts proclaiming ‘Free The Cosco Busan Six’, no craggy-jawed celebrity is taking up their cause at the UN, but, then, they’re not cute whales or seals, not noticeably gay, don’t appear to advocate political or cultural extremism, and aren’t being murdered in Dafur, and, anyway, only two  US newspapers have mentioned them, no prime time soundbites. They fall beneath the liberal radar because they’re simply seafarers waiting to go home.

They, of course, are the six seafarers detained in San Franscico awaiting the pleasure of American courts. They are not charged with anything, they are being held as material witness’s in the trial of Cosco Busan pilot John Cota.

They did, at least, get mentioned by Howard Mintz in the San Jose Mercury and John Upton in the National Examiner, which appears to have been more than they got in the maritime industry press, in which they seem to be invisible.

True, they are living in a reasonable apartment, they have been allowed to visit the local Chinatown and museums, almost certainly under the watchful eye of the Immigration and Naturalisation Service or spooks from the Department of Homeland Security (As British House Of Commons Transport Committee report points out, seafarers are regarded as little more than terrorists in the US). They are getting a $50 a day meal allowance from the ship owner, which is far from excessive or unreasonable. As Howard Mintz points out, it isn’t exactly Gitmo.

If they had been charged with a crime and were awaiting trial, those would be pretty good conditions to be held in. But they are not. They are not being detained voluntarily, but under court order.

At the moment they are receiving their salaries from their company, which ends on 31st May. Cota’s trial has yet to be set. They’ve lost their jobs on the Cosco Busan and can’t find replacement employment because of their detention.

The US Attorney’s Office is willing to let them go home once they’ve given depositions, but it appears that can’t be done until June.

Yet another reason not to be a seafarer, or, at least, to keep clear of the US.

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Not Being John Cota

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Apr 112008
 

“Capt. Cota acknowledges the lack of situational awareness and does not expect it to happen again.”
Board of Pilot Commissioners for the Bays: Investigation into the grounding of the M/V Pioneer…on 20 February 2006.

Bay pilot John Cota’s week it wasn’t, starting April 8, 2008. Since the US Department of Justice has already charged him on two criminal counts, an act likely to hinder a helpful investigation, his lawyers advised him to claim the protection under the Fifth Amendment of the US constitution against self-incrimination and declined to give testimony at the public hearings of the US National Transportation Safety Board, a protection ironically, which the US government does not want extended to non-US seafarers.

The ship’s crew, currently detained as ‘material witnesses’ for Cota’s trial did not give testimony, either.

Much of the second day of the hearing was occupied by evidence on Cota’s medical condition and previous history of alcohol abuse – he was tested for alcohol immediately after the incident and found clear. After the incident, the US Coast Guard asked Cota to surrender his mariner’s license because “the listed potential side effects of those medications and how they may or may not have some impact upon his judgment, his ability to function, cognitive ability,” said Chief of the Regional Exam Center, George Buffleben.

A medical witness, Dr. Robert Bourgeois, told the hearing “I wouldn’t want anyone taking those medicines and having to make decisions in a safety-sensitive position”. When asked if he would let his children board a bus with a driver using such medication, he said “my kids would not be on that bus”.

John Cota, call sign Romeo, was evaluated for renewal of his license in January 2007 under a system that is currently undergoing changes. However, this does call into question the effectiveness of the medical examination process.

This does not necessarily mean that Cota was suffering impairment. If he was, the hearing was told, it would be difficult for the master or officers to tell whether or not he was so impaired as to present a hazard. Under US legislation ship’s officers are required to obey the orders of the pilot unless he is clearly incompetent or incapacitated.

There has been much comment about alleged problems with the radar, AIS and ECIDS, with Cota saying that the latter was confusing. It is clear for the VDR transcript that he was struggling with both. The pilot who had conducted the Cosco Busan inbound, Captain Nyborg, had no problems with radar or AIS, and these were found to be working after the incident.

He also had little problem communicating with the Captain, Mao Cai Sun, nor with the helmsman.

Captain Nyborg did notice a problem with the ECDIS, with the track being offset to the west. Nyborg disembarked the Cosco Busan and later went to the pilot conference centre for a monthly meeting. From there he saw the ship coming away from anchorage 7 and moving towards anchorage 9, “I was surprised because I recognized her as a ship I put in Oakland, and it would be very unusual for that ship to be coming to the wrong direction unless something had happened or something was wrong, like if they had a breakdown or something” said Nyborg. Other pilots present told Nyborg about the allision.

“I tried to remember where, you know, what issues I might have had with it, and what my, you know, if I had any difficulties or, you know, bad helmsman or anything like that. Nothing stuck out in my mind except that I, I remembered that, gee, I think that ECDIS display was showing a poor course as far as — a poor planned route through Delta Echo span, and I wondered if they had tracked the same deal coming outbound,” he told investigators.

Cota arrived at the meeting looking shaken: “(He) actually sat down within 3 or 4 feet of me, and I scooted my chair over and out of concern asked him, John, how you doing? He described how he was doing. Oh, my God, John, what happened? And, and he was visibly shaken. And I said you know what you should look into that – you should look into this ECDIS display because I believe it was, it was running West of where it should have been on my inbound. And of course I didn’t need it, but if you relied on it at all maybe it ought to be something that is investigated.”

Surprisingly, or prehaps not considering the possible emotional impact of the event, Cota forgot about the meeting: “John called me last night, and he had actually — didn’t recall me telling him that. He’s like there’s rumor around that you saw this or saw that, and I’m like, John, I talked to you at the meeting. Didn’t you remember that meeting? He said, no. I was really rattled, and I probably talked to people I didn’t, I don’t remember talking to. And that’s very understandable, you know,” said Nyborg.

To be continued

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