John Cota and The M/V Cosco Busan

First revealed on gCaptain’s Professional Mariner Forum (LINK) last week, the news is now official… John Cota, pilot of the Cosco Busan, has plead guilty to charges and faces jail time. The San Francisco Chronicle tells us:

The pilot of the container ship that struck the Bay Bridge in 2007 and spilled 53,000 gallons of fuel oil pleaded guilty today to federal water pollution charges in an agreement that calls for him to serve two to 10 months in prison.

Capt. John Cota, 61, admitted in a San Francisco courtroom that he acted negligently in piloting the 901-foot-long Cosco Busan in a heavy morning fog Nov. 7, 2007. He also admitted failing to disclose all the prescription drugs he was taking when he renewed his federal and state pilot’s licenses in 2006 and 2007.

But his negotiated plea agreement nearly fell apart when a prosecutor read a lengthy account of Cota’s alleged misdeeds and his lawyer protested that it was full of inaccuracies.

“An incompetent, untrained crew and mistakes by the Coast Guard” contributed to the accident, defense attorney Jeffrey Bornstein told U.S. District Judge Susan Illston.

Illston reproached Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Schmidt for “arguing for the grandstand,” but accepted Cota’s guilty plea to misdemeanor charges of violating the Clean Water Act and the Migratory Bird Act. She scheduled sentencing for June 19.

Besides imprisonment, the plea agreement includes a fine of between $3,000 and $30,000. Cota, a vessel pilot for 26 years, has surrendered his license and said in his plea agreement that he would not reapply until January 2010. Read More…

The question remains… What are the implications for the maritime industry?

Read gCaptain’s series topic links:

Tagged with →  
Share →
  • Reader

    DOJ Press Release_#09-201: Guilty Plea in Case of Cosco Busan Ship Pilot (2009-03-06)
    http://www.usdoj.gov/opa/pr/2009/March/09-enrd-20

  • Reader

    DOJ Press Release_#09-201: Guilty Plea in Case of Cosco Busan Ship Pilot (2009-03-06)
    http://www.usdoj.gov/opa/pr/2009/March/09-enrd-20

  • http://gcaptain.com/maritime/blog Ardis Renell Eaglin

    Wow it really sounds plausible that the ocean conditions like the wind may have caused the crash and forced the navigation to missed that passageway however; but no one is claiming that the weather may have caused the crash they only say it may have been caused by the fog. When I read little bits about that day for the captain they make it sound like it may indeed have been a calm peaceful foggy day on the water.
    The diagram provided by the video shows that the driver tried to avoid the beam but that there wasn't any room so it looked impossible because of the conditions totally man. It must have been really foggy out there because he couldn't see anything directly right in front of him. It probably became a last minute issue when one calculates that when they pulled out everything seemed to be ideal and still.

    • http://theexcellentadventure.com/ea/ Laureen

      I live in the Emeryville marina; spitting distance from the bridge and the "incident". There was ridiculously thick fog that morning… so thick that I'd noted it before the spill happened (couldn't see the seawall we were docked across from), but there was no wind at all. Frankly, someone who's a pilot in this Bay should know those spans and pilings in their sleep. Besides the fact that, during the morning commute, you can locate that bridge by sound alone. And it's only 20 minutes or so off the dock; the whole thing is inexcusable from any direction. The fog didn't change in 20 minutes, and that's what radar is for.

  • http://gcaptain.com/maritime/blog Ardis Renell Eaglin

    Wow it really sounds plausible that the ocean conditions like the wind may have caused the crash and forced the navigation to missed that passageway however; but no one is claiming that the weather may have caused the crash they only say it may have been caused by the fog. When I read little bits about that day for the captain they make it sound like it may indeed have been a calm peaceful foggy day on the water.
    The diagram provided by the video shows that the driver tried to avoid the beam but that there wasn't any room so it looked impossible because of the conditions totally man. It must have been really foggy out there because he couldn't see anything directly right in front of him. It probably became a last minute issue when one calculates that when they pulled out everything seemed to be ideal and still.

    • http://theexcellentadventure.com/ea/ Laureen

      I live in the Emeryville marina; spitting distance from the bridge and the "incident". There was ridiculously thick fog that morning… so thick that I'd noted it before the spill happened (couldn't see the seawall we were docked across from), but there was no wind at all. Frankly, someone who's a pilot in this Bay should know those spans and pilings in their sleep. Besides the fact that, during the morning commute, you can locate that bridge by sound alone. And it's only 20 minutes or so off the dock; the whole thing is inexcusable from any direction. The fog didn't change in 20 minutes, and that's what radar is for.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/gCaptain gCaptain

    Posted by "Reader" via email…

    From the referenced San Francisco Chronicle newspaper account:
    "(Judge) Illston allowed Cota to plead guilty to misdemeanor charges of violating the Clean Water Act and the Migratory Bird Act. She scheduled sentencing for June 19."
    .
    "Prosecutors agreed to dismiss felony charges that Cota lied in annual physical exams about the medications he was taking"

    From the referenced DOJ press release:
    http://www.usdoj.gov/opa/pr/2009/March/09-enrd-20

    The plea agreement contains factual admissions by Cota including: “I acknowledge that my negligence was a proximate cause of the discharge of approximately 53,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil into San Francisco Bay.”

    During the voyage in less than a half mile of visibility, Cota gave the helm commands that crashed the Cosco Busan into the fendering system at the base of the Delta tower of the San Francisco Bay Bridge.

    In the plea agreement, Cota admitted that he:
    Failed to use the ship’s radar in the final approach to San Francisco Bay Bridge;
    Failed to recognize two red triangles on the ship’s electronic chart system that actually are the buoys marking the Delta bridge tower;
    Failed to verify the meaning of the red triangles by using the ship’s paper chart or radar.
    Failed to inform the crew of his method of navigation that he relied on using a particular radar setting;
    and Failed to advise the crew of a radar beacon that marked the center of the Delta-Echo span.
    .
    .
    As part of the plea agreement with Cota, the government agreed to dismiss pending (added: felony) false statement charges relating to allegations that Cota failed to disclose his medications on required Coast Guard forms in 2006 and 2007 necessary to maintain his license, and which the court ruled would be tried separately from the case involving the Cosco Busan incident.
    .
    Cota admits in the plea papers filed today that his 2006 physical exam form failed to disclose some of the medications he was prescribed including: Provigil (a medication prescribed to treat sleep apnea),
    Lorazepam (an anti-anxiety medication that had been prescribed as a sleeping aid),
    Vicodin(a pain medication),
    Tylenol 4 (a pain medication),
    Darvon 65 (a pain medication),
    Zoloft (an anti-depressant prescribed for an off-brand purpose)
    and Ambien (a sleeping aid).

    Regarding the form he signed in 2007, Cota admits that three medications, Vicodin, Zoloft and Tylenol 4 were not disclosed to the Coast Guard. According to the plea papers, while Cota reported taking various other drugs “occasionally” on the 2007 form, he now admits that he “refilled many of these prescriptions regularly.”

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/gCaptain gCaptain

    Posted by "Reader" via email…

    From the referenced San Francisco Chronicle newspaper account:
    "(Judge) Illston allowed Cota to plead guilty to misdemeanor charges of violating the Clean Water Act and the Migratory Bird Act. She scheduled sentencing for June 19."
    .
    "Prosecutors agreed to dismiss felony charges that Cota lied in annual physical exams about the medications he was taking"

    From the referenced DOJ press release:
    http://www.usdoj.gov/opa/pr/2009/March/09-enrd-20

    The plea agreement contains factual admissions by Cota including: “I acknowledge that my negligence was a proximate cause of the discharge of approximately 53,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil into San Francisco Bay.”

    During the voyage in less than a half mile of visibility, Cota gave the helm commands that crashed the Cosco Busan into the fendering system at the base of the Delta tower of the San Francisco Bay Bridge.

    In the plea agreement, Cota admitted that he:
    Failed to use the ship’s radar in the final approach to San Francisco Bay Bridge;
    Failed to recognize two red triangles on the ship’s electronic chart system that actually are the buoys marking the Delta bridge tower;
    Failed to verify the meaning of the red triangles by using the ship’s paper chart or radar.
    Failed to inform the crew of his method of navigation that he relied on using a particular radar setting;
    and Failed to advise the crew of a radar beacon that marked the center of the Delta-Echo span.
    .
    .
    As part of the plea agreement with Cota, the government agreed to dismiss pending (added: felony) false statement charges relating to allegations that Cota failed to disclose his medications on required Coast Guard forms in 2006 and 2007 necessary to maintain his license, and which the court ruled would be tried separately from the case involving the Cosco Busan incident.
    .
    Cota admits in the plea papers filed today that his 2006 physical exam form failed to disclose some of the medications he was prescribed including: Provigil (a medication prescribed to treat sleep apnea),
    Lorazepam (an anti-anxiety medication that had been prescribed as a sleeping aid),
    Vicodin(a pain medication),
    Tylenol 4 (a pain medication),
    Darvon 65 (a pain medication),
    Zoloft (an anti-depressant prescribed for an off-brand purpose)
    and Ambien (a sleeping aid).

    Regarding the form he signed in 2007, Cota admits that three medications, Vicodin, Zoloft and Tylenol 4 were not disclosed to the Coast Guard. According to the plea papers, while Cota reported taking various other drugs “occasionally” on the 2007 form, he now admits that he “refilled many of these prescriptions regularly.”

  • Pingback: Guilty, guilty, guilty | The Excellent Adventure()

  • POPEYE THE SAILOR

    A "GIVEN" PEOPLE: OUR GOVERNMENT IS NOW FULLY AWARE OF WHAT NOT TO EVER PUT PAST PILOT ASSOCIATIONS LEADERSHIP IN THE US OF A:
    Published Drugs obtained by Petaluma pilot John Cota in the 60 days before the Nov. 7, 2007 Cosco Busan crash:

    200 tablets of hydrocodone and acetaminophen, a painkiller, sold as Vicodin.
    190 tablets of propoxyphene, a painkiller, sold as Darvon
    120 tablets of diazepam, a painkiller, sold as Valium
    50 tablets of pentazocine and naloxone, a painkiller, sold as Talwin
    27 tablets of sumatriptan, which treat migraine headaches, sold as Imitrex
    180 tablets of lorazepam, which treat anxiety, sold as Ativan
    90 tablets of modafinil, which improves wakefulness in patients with sleep disorders, sold as Provigil
    90 tablets of sertraline, an antidepressant, sold as Zoloft
    100 tablets of diphenoxylate and atropine, which treat gastrointestinal problems, sold under many names
    50 tablets of prochlorperazine, which treat nausea, vomiting, schizophrenia and anxiety, sold as Compazine

  • POPEYE THE SAILOR

    A "GIVEN" PEOPLE: OUR GOVERNMENT IS NOW FULLY AWARE OF WHAT NOT TO EVER PUT PAST PILOT ASSOCIATIONS LEADERSHIP IN THE US OF A:
    Published Drugs obtained by Petaluma pilot John Cota in the 60 days before the Nov. 7, 2007 Cosco Busan crash:

    200 tablets of hydrocodone and acetaminophen, a painkiller, sold as Vicodin.
    190 tablets of propoxyphene, a painkiller, sold as Darvon
    120 tablets of diazepam, a painkiller, sold as Valium
    50 tablets of pentazocine and naloxone, a painkiller, sold as Talwin
    27 tablets of sumatriptan, which treat migraine headaches, sold as Imitrex
    180 tablets of lorazepam, which treat anxiety, sold as Ativan
    90 tablets of modafinil, which improves wakefulness in patients with sleep disorders, sold as Provigil
    90 tablets of sertraline, an antidepressant, sold as Zoloft
    100 tablets of diphenoxylate and atropine, which treat gastrointestinal problems, sold under many names
    50 tablets of prochlorperazine, which treat nausea, vomiting, schizophrenia and anxiety, sold as Compazine

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/gCaptain gCaptain

    Sent by a Bay Area lawyer (and friend of gCaptain) via email:

    Only because lawyers are trained to focus on language in written instruments or documents, I read your recent posting with interest. If Pilot Cota pleads guilty to 2 misdemeanors, he does not risk "prison" time, only "jail" time. Typically the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor is whether the incarceration is more than a year. If so, a felony, prison time. If less than a year, a misdemeanor and jail time. In Sacramento County first time drunk driver convictions, the2 days are usually done on work details without any jail time on account of the crowded conditions of the main jail and the correctional center in the south county. Sometimes a felony charge results in one year in county jail and an extended period of probation. If the terms of the probation are violated then the man does the three years, thus it is a felony. On the other hand sometimes in his sentence of a criminal felon the Judge can make it a misdemeanor in his sentence, ordering a fine and jail time only. All somewhat confusing, but the main thought is that I do not think Cota will do prison time. Hope all is going well with the gCaptain enterprise

    • Reader

      “Bay Area Lawyer”,
      I appreciate your comment on felony v. misdemeanor. I had commented on the juxtaposition of the Department of Justice press release and the newspaper account in part to point out that the DOJ was silent on the "offense level" pleaded to.
      I also note that the “PLEA AGREEMENT as to John Joseph Cota (ts, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 3/6/2009)” is not available to the public on PACER, the electronic public access service that allows users to obtain case and docket information from Federal (Courts)”

      "Reader, not a Lawyer"

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/gCaptain gCaptain

    Sent by a Bay Area lawyer (and friend of gCaptain) via email:

    Only because lawyers are trained to focus on language in written instruments or documents, I read your recent posting with interest. If Pilot Cota pleads guilty to 2 misdemeanors, he does not risk "prison" time, only "jail" time. Typically the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor is whether the incarceration is more than a year. If so, a felony, prison time. If less than a year, a misdemeanor and jail time. In Sacramento County first time drunk driver convictions, the2 days are usually done on work details without any jail time on account of the crowded conditions of the main jail and the correctional center in the south county. Sometimes a felony charge results in one year in county jail and an extended period of probation. If the terms of the probation are violated then the man does the three years, thus it is a felony. On the other hand sometimes in his sentence of a criminal felon the Judge can make it a misdemeanor in his sentence, ordering a fine and jail time only. All somewhat confusing, but the main thought is that I do not think Cota will do prison time. Hope all is going well with the gCaptain enterprise

    • Reader

      “Bay Area Lawyer”,
      I appreciate your comment on felony v. misdemeanor. I had commented on the juxtaposition of the Department of Justice press release and the newspaper account in part to point out that the DOJ was silent on the "offense level" pleaded to.
      I also note that the “PLEA AGREEMENT as to John Joseph Cota (ts, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 3/6/2009)” is not available to the public on PACER, the electronic public access service that allows users to obtain case and docket information from Federal (Courts)”

      "Reader, not a Lawyer"

Sign up for the gCaptain Newsletter!

Over 30,000 people receive the gCaptain email newsletter every single day. Get the maritime and offshore industry headlines that matter sent straight to your inbox. Or LIKE us on Facebook!

We will not share your email address with anybody for any reason