Sailor, Mariners, seafarers and to whom it may concern
by Captain John Denham
The Department of Justice has submitted “information relative to a criminal action ” in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, California; an accusation against a mariner for violating The Clean Water Act and The Migratory Bird Treaty Act. As a criminal case it will be processed not in Admiralty, but in criminal court, where there is a more relaxed and lesser general acceptance for technical qualification and terminology. The urgency in this priority matter may be a limitation in the Statutes or they are not very busy at DOJ. However it should be noted this an accusation for violating two acts, not an allision between a ship and a fixed object. Shaft alley lawyers, don your caps and peruse.
The defendant, JOHN JOSEPH COTA, did negligently (failed to act as a reasonable person might do in similar circumstances) cause (personally did) the discharge of oil in such quantities as may be harmful from a vessel, the M/V Cosco Busan, into and upon the navigable waters of the United States, without a permit. (Can one discharge oil with a permit?) Specifically, on or about November 7, 2007, Defendant Cota, while piloting the M/V Cosco Busan,(it has not been proven that at the time he was directing the navigation and movement of the vessel) caused approximately 58,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil to be discharged from the vessel into San Francisco Bay by acting in a negligent manner,(Supra) that included the following: (a) failing to pilot a collision free course (Supra; made it safely from Oakland to buoy #1); (b) failing to adequately review with the Captain and crew (all of them?) of the M/V Cosco Busan prior to departure the official navigational charts of the proposed course, (only one route out of Oakland) the location of the San Francisco Bay aids to navigation,( not reported as yet; only 18 aids not including bridge) and the operation of the vessel’s navigational equipment; (c) departing port in heavy fog ( term has no professional meaning: although reported as .1 mile) and then failing to proceed at a safe speed (too may variables and special circumstances involved) during the voyage despite limited visibility; (d) then failing to use the vessel’s radar (operational ability unresolved) while making the final approach to the Bay Bridge; (e) failing to use positional fixes during the voyage; and (f) failing to verify the vessel’s position vis-a-vis other established and recognized aids to navigation throughout the voyage. 33CFR164.11 “The owner master or person in charge shall ensure that: (a) the wheelhouse is constantly manned by persons who: (2)Fix the vessel’s position.”
All alleged in violation of Title 33, United States Code, Sections 1319(c)(1)(A) and 1321(b)(3), a Class A misdemeanor. Reviewing the above it is obvious that owners, masters and person in charge of vessels should make all employees aware of the possibility of enforcement by government of these acts, The media has correctly expressed, “they intend to make examples.” The courts, including those selected as jurors , under instruction, will expect a high professional standard of performance of licensed and documented mariners, seafarers and private boaters. It is possible with a proper defense, one may escape penalty, but the experience is devastating and costly.
This article was written by Captain John Denham, a veteran of 66 years maritime experience in seamanship, ship handling, navigation, piloting, and education. He is also author of The Assistant and DD 891.