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California Briefing / San Francisco

Cargo ship pilot pleads guilty in 2007 oil spill

March 07, 2009|Maria L. La Ganga

The pilot of a cargo ship that sideswiped the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, causing a 53,000-gallon fuel spill, pleaded guilty Friday to two counts of breaking federal environmental laws, federal officials said.

As part of the plea, John Joseph Cota of Petaluma admitted negligence in the 2007 incident, which fouled 26 miles of shoreline, killed at least 2,000 migratory birds -- including endangered brown pelicans -- and delayed the start of crab season.

In exchange, the U.S. attorney's office dropped felony charges that Cota failed to disclose taking painkillers, anti-anxiety medication, anti-depressants and sleeping pills.

Cota, who piloted the Cosco Busan when it struck the bridge, is scheduled to be sentenced in June. He faces up to 10 months in prison and could be fined as much as $30,000. Cota's attorney did not return a call for comment.

Cota's "failure to act prudently under the circumstances caused a major environmental disaster that could have been far worse," U.S. Atty. Joseph Russoniello said in a written statement.

-- Maria L. La Ganga

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