City sues Cosco Busan operators and owners
By Julia Cheever
December 12, 2007
The city of San Francisco filed suit today seeking potentially
millions of dollars from the owners and operators of the ship
that spilled 58,000 gallons of heavy bunker fuel into San Francisco
Bay last month.
The lawsuit describing the Nov. 7 spill from the Cosco Busan
as a "catastrophic blunder" was filed in San Francisco
Superior Court by City Attorney Dennis Herrera.
The spill occurred when the container ship hit a protective fender
of a tower of the Bay Bridge as it sailed out of the Port of Oakland,
bound for South Korea.
Herrera, a former maritime lawyer, said, "This was a wholly
avoidable incident that has caused more injury to the San Francisco
Bay Area than we can yet begin to fathom."
At least four other lawsuits have been filed against the ship's
owners and operators.
Fishermen and fishing boat owners have filed two lawsuits in
Superior Court and one in federal court for damage to their livelihood,
while the U.S. government has sued in federal court over harm
to navigable waters and federal beaches and marine sanctuaries.
Herrera's lawsuit seeks compensation for the city's response
and cleanup costs, damage to city waterfront and loss of revenue
from fees and rents for use of city marinas, wharves and piers.
Herrera said the amount could be millions of dollars.
The suit also seeks civil fines, which could range from $25,000
to $500,000 per day for each day of violation of a state oil spill
Defendants include the ship's owner, Regal Stone Ltd. of Hong
Kong; the company that leased it, Hanjin Shipping Co. Ltd. of
South Korea; and ship operators Fleet Management Ltd. and Synergy
Also named in the lawsuit is pilot John Cota, 59, of Petaluma,
who was piloting the ship when it hit the bridge fender. Cota
has been suspended by a state board of pilot commissioners while
the board pursues misconduct charges.
Regal Stone spokesman Mike Hanson said, "We're participating
in all the investigations, but we're not commenting on any of
the lawsuits out of respect for the process."
The city's lawsuit is based on the state's Lempert-Keene-Seastrand
Oil Spill Prevention and Response Act, which makes responsible
parties, including ship owners and operators, "absolutely
liable" for oil spills regardless of blame and also establishes
civil penalties for spills.
The lawsuit also includes state law claims of negligence, nuisance,
trespass and unlawful business practices.
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