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Guilty plea in San Francisco Bay oil spill case

August 13, 2009 |  5:27 pm


The operator of a tanker that spilled 53,000 gallons of fuel oil into the San Francisco Bay pleaded guilty Thursday to two criminal charges and will pay a $10 million fine, according to federal officials.

Hong Kong-based Fleet Management Ltd. pleaded guilty to violating the federal Oil Pollution Act of 1990. The company also pleaded guilty to felony obstruction of justice and false statement charges in the spill’s aftermath.

On Nov. 7, 2007, the Cosco Busan sideswiped the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in the dense fog. The incident fouled 26 miles of shoreline and delayed the start of crab season.

At least 2,000 migratory birds died in the spill, including brown pelicans, a federally endangered species, and marbled murrelets, which are on the California endangered species list.

“In pleading guilty, Fleet admitted that after the ship hit the Bay Bridge, it concealed ship records and created materially false, fictitious and forged documents with an intent to influence the Coast Guard’s investigation,” the said U.S. Department of Justice in a written statement.

Marc Greenberg, Fleet’s attorney, declined to comment on the agreement Thursday because he said it has yet to be accepted by the court. Two earlier pleas were turned down. A hearing is set for Dec. 11.

In March, the ship’s pilot pleaded guilty to two counts of breaking federal environmental laws.
John Joseph Cota of Petaluma acknowledged negligence and was sentenced to 10 months in prison, a year of supervised release and 200 hours of community service. He is scheduled to surrender to authorities on Sept. 18.

-- Maria LaGanga

Photo: Crews clean up oil on Rodeo Beach in Marin County in November 2007, after spill by the Cosco Busan. Credit: Robert Durell / Los Angeles Times