Maritime Safety News Today – 25th April 2008

April 25, 2008

Somali forces storm hijacked Dubai ship, arrest pirates

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Security forces in northern Somalia stormed a hijacked ship carrying food Tuesday, rescuing hostages and arresting seven pirates, officials said. The seizure was the latest in a spate of pirate attacks off the increasingly lawless Somali coast.

NYK says tanker holed in attack
Marine Log – New York,NY,USA
The ship manager, TMM, has reported to the Maritime Safety Agency that the weapon used by the small unidentified boat appeared to be a rocket launcher.

Spain works to secure release of fishing boat hijacked off coast (Pressemitteilung) – Wien,Austria
«It is a concern for the brokers,» he said of the piracy off Somalia. Cyrus Mody, a senior analyst at the International Maritime Bureau, a UN body that

Cosco Busan’s pilot charged with felonies
San Francisco Chronicle – CA, USA
(04-22) 16:35 PDT SAN FRANCISCO — The pilot of the container ship that struck the Bay Bridge in November and spilled more than 50000 gallons of fuel oil

Captain: No way to avoid collision
WZTV – Nashville,TN,USA
He says he shined a navigation light on the vessel in an attempt to get the attention of the operator, but failed to get it. Killed in the accident were

Firms bid to salvage shipwreck
Kathimerini – Athens,Greece
staged a protest on the anniversary of the cruise liner’s sinking, calling for the vessel to be salvaged and all spilt fuel to be pumped out of the sea.

INTERTANKO launches Tanker Officer Training Standards (TOTS) Initiative

INTERTANKO is delighted to launch its Tanker Officer Training Standards (TOTS) initiative, an ambitious project on which it has been working with some intensity in a bid to respond to industry concerns over how to establish officer training standards.

NTSB “Could Do Better”

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released the testimony report of its examination of management practices of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The GAO found that the agency made progress since the previous GAO review, but that there is still room for improvement. The NTSB should develop transparent, risk-based criteria for selecting which marine accidents it will investigate. Writing of the reports of marine accident investigations has materially improved. GAO-08-652T (4/23/08).

EU sending Spain satellite images of the ‘New Flame’
Panorama – Gibraltar,UK
The PP party, in raising the question about the New Flame, even made what are incorrect statements such as that the vessel is on the seabed on the Algeciras

Not Being John Cota

April 11, 2008

“Capt. Cota acknowledges the lack of situational awareness and does not expect it to happen again.”
Board of Pilot Commissioners for the Bays: Investigation into the grounding of the M/V Pioneer…on 20 February 2006.

Bay pilot John Cota’s week it wasn’t, starting April 8, 2008. Since the US Department of Justice has already charged him on two criminal counts, an act likely to hinder a helpful investigation, his lawyers advised him to claim the protection under the Fifth Amendment of the US constitution against self-incrimination and declined to give testimony at the public hearings of the US National Transportation Safety Board, a protection ironically, which the US government does not want extended to non-US seafarers.

The ship’s crew, currently detained as ‘material witnesses’ for Cota’s trial did not give testimony, either.

Much of the second day of the hearing was occupied by evidence on Cota’s medical condition and previous history of alcohol abuse – he was tested for alcohol immediately after the incident and found clear. After the incident, the US Coast Guard asked Cota to surrender his mariner’s license because “the listed potential side effects of those medications and how they may or may not have some impact upon his judgment, his ability to function, cognitive ability,” said Chief of the Regional Exam Center, George Buffleben.

A medical witness, Dr. Robert Bourgeois, told the hearing “I wouldn’t want anyone taking those medicines and having to make decisions in a safety-sensitive position”. When askled if he would let his children board a bus with a driver using such medication, he said “my kids would not be on that bus”.

John Cota, call sign Romeo, was evaluated for renewal of his license in January 2007 under a system that is currently undergoing changes. However, this does call into question the effectiveness of the medical examination process.

This does not necessarily mean that Cota was suffering impairment. If he was, the hearing was told, it would be difficult for the master or officers to tell whether or not he was so impaired as to present a hazard. Under US legislation ship’s officers are required to obey the orders of the pilot unless he is clearly incompetent or incapacitated.

There has been much comment about alleged problems with the radar, AIS and ECIDS, with Cota saying that the latter was confusing. It is clear for the VDR transcript that he was struggling with both. The pilot who had conducted the Cosco Busan inbound, Captain Nyborg, had no problems with radar or AIS, and these were found to be working after the incident.

He also had little problem communicating with the Captain, Mao Cai Sun, nor with the helmsman.

Captain Nyborg did notice a problem with the ECDIS, with the track being offset to the west. Nyborg disembarked the Cosco Busan and later went to the pilot conference centre for a monthly meeting. From there he saw the ship coming away from anchorage 7 and moving towards anchorage 9, “I was surprised because I recognized her as a ship I put in Oakland, and it would be very unusual for that ship to be coming to the wrong direction unless something had happened or something was wrong, like if they had a breakdown or something” said Nyborg. Other pilots present told Nyborg about the allision.

“I tried to remember where, you know, what issues I might have had with it, and what my, you know, if I had any difficulties or, you know, bad helmsman or anything like that. Nothing stuck out in my mind except that I, I remembered that, gee, I think that ECDIS display was showing a poor course as far as — a poor planned route through Delta Echo span, and I wondered if they had tracked the same deal coming outbound,” he told investigators.

Cota arrived at the meeting looking shaken: “(He) actually sat down within 3 or 4 feet of me, and I scooted my chair over and out of concern asked him, John, how you doing? He described how he was doing. Oh, my God, John, what happened? And, and he was visibly shaken. And I said you know what you should look into that – you should look into this ECDIS display because I believe it was, it was running West of where it should have been on my inbound. And of course I didn’t need it, but if you relied on it at all maybe it ought to be something that is investigated.”

Surprisingly, or prehaps not considering the possible emotional impact of the event, Cota forgot about the meeting: “John called me last night, and he had actually — didn’t recall me telling him that. He’s like there’s rumor around that you saw this or saw that, and I’m like, John, I talked to you at the meeting. Didn’t you remember that meeting? He said, no. I was really rattled, and I probably talked to people I didn’t, I don’t remember talking to. And that’s very understandable, you know,” said Nyborg.

To be continued

Cosco Busan TV

April 9, 2008

The Cosco Busan Hearings can be watched live here. heaRing start at 8.30 local time (NY).

Live Webcast!
Real Video
Windows Media

Cosco Busan Pilot Claims The 5th

April 5, 2008

Cosco Busan pilot John Cota has invoked his right under the 5th Amendment of the US Constitution, which protects accused persons from self-incrimination, not to appear at the US National Transportation Safety Board hearings which start on 8th April. Through lawyers, he claims that VTS personnel were betting on whether the 65,131 tonnes container ship would hit the San Francisco -Oakland Bay Bridge on November 7, 2007.

Sideswiping the bridge’s fenders, a gash was opened in the ship’s side that resulted in a 55,000 gallon spill of fuel oil.

The two-day public NTSB hearings will follow a 7th April conference to fix the final agenda. NTSB Chairman Mark V. Rosenker, who will chair the hearing says, “This accident presents the Board with many questions, such as: Was the Cosco Busan’s bridge navigation equipment working properly? Was there adequate oversight of the San Francisco bar pilot? Did the Coast Guard’s Vessel Traffic Service exert the appropriate level of control over the Cosco Busan?”

A further issue may be the possible effect of medication being taken by Cota for sleep apnea.

Cota’s lawyers claim that the Coast Guard VTS service could have avoided the accident but did not clearly communicate their concern to Cota and that VTS personnel discussed and took bets on whether the Cosco Busan would hit the bridge, based on “waterfront rumours”. The letter also says that the Coast Guard did not warn mariners about the fog and that Cota “… prevented a worse catastrophe by his clear and cool thinking.”

Cota faces prosecution for two misdemeanors under the Clean Water Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. If found guilty, Cota could face a one year prison sentence or fines totalling $115,000.  Some six members of the Cosco Busan crew, who have not been charged are in detention as ‘material witnesses’ pending Cota’s trial.

The Board of Pilot Commissioners for the Bays of San Francisco, San Pablo and Suisun has charged Cota with misconduct and the US Coast Guard has demanded his Merchant Marine Officer’s license because it “believes he is not physically competent to maintain the license.”

Regardless of the results of Cota’s trial or the NTSB hearing, the incident will throw the spotlight on the relationship between Pilot and Master, recently the subject of a Maritime Executive editorial, As pointed out in the responses to that item, the pilkot, at least under US law, is more than merely an adviser, a master is required to obey the pilot, and the bridge crew are required to obey the pilot as if he was the master, unless there is clear indication of the pilot’s incapacity or incompetence.

By which it’s usually too late.

Article of note: Joe O’Keefe – Criminalizing the Cosco Busan Incident

March 29, 2008

Joe O’Keefe of Maritime Executive magazine reviews the impact of criminal charges recently laid against the pilot of the Cosco Busan.  It could be the end of an era that has long passed it’s use by date.

Says Joe:

“I don’t know who made the decision to move the Cosco Busan (or why) on that fateful day. Perhaps we’ll never know. What I do know is that last week’s announcement by the Department of Justice changes the rules of the game forever. And, the Coast Guard is very soon going to have to change the answer to a certain multiple choice question on the Rules of the Road Exam, which asks, “What is the role of the pilot on the bridge of a large cargo vessel?” Hint: the answer is no longer “c.”  ”

Read it here. 

Cosco Busan Crew Still Detained Without Charge

March 19, 2008

Shortly after Cosco Busan pilot John Cota was charged by the US Department Of Justice for matters related to the Cosco Busan oil spill after its allision with the San Francisco Oakland Bridge, US newspaper National Examiner journalist John Upton revealed that six members of the Cosco Busan crew, including the captain and chief engineer, are being detained in an unknown location without charge.

The US DOJ has, it is claimed, refused to give information on the whereabouts of the men.

Last month the International Transport Workers Federation, ITF, the International Chamber of Shipping and the International Shipping Federation launched a campaign for the fair treatment of seafarers following a maritime accident. A poster has been distributed which may be downloaded from the ISF/ICS or from the ITF.

Under International Maritime Organisation and International Labour Organisation guidelines seafarers have a number of rights, including the right not to self-incriminate and the right to legal counsel.

Under the new IMO code for investing maritime casualties, members states would be required to follow a code of practice which protects seafarers rights in a sort of maritime version of the ‘Miranda rights’. The US, however, objects to the human rights provision in the draft code.

US Justice Department statement on Cosco Busan Pilot

March 18, 2008

Ship Pilot Charged in San Francisco Bay Oil Spill Case

WASHINGTON—John Joseph Cota, the pilot of the Cosco Busan, the 65,131-ton container ship that collided with the San Francisco Bay Bridge resulting in the discharge of approximately 58,000 gallons of oil, was charged today with violations of the Clean Water Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, announced Ronald J. Tenpas, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division and Joseph P. Russoniello, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California.

According to the criminal information filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, Cota was licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard and the State of California as a Bar Pilot. He was a member of the San Francisco Bar Pilots and had been employed in the San Francisco Bay since 1981. Pilots are licensed professionals who are responsible for navigating ships through challenging waters. In California, large ocean-going vessels are required to be piloted when entering or leaving port.

The criminal information alleges that on Nov. 7, 2007, Cota negligently caused the discharge of approximately 58,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil from the Cosco Busan in violation of the Clean Water Act, as amended by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. According to the charges, while piloting the ship from port in heavy fog, he failed to pilot a collision free course and failed to adequately review the proposed course with the Captain and crew on official navigational charts. Further, he failed to use the ship’s radar as he approached the Bay Bridge, use positional fixes or verify the ship’s position using official aids of navigation, throughout the voyage. According to the criminal information, these failures led to the Cosco Busan striking the bridge and spilling the oil.

As a result of the discharge of heavy fuel oil from the Cosco Busan, approximately 2,000 birds died, including Brown Pelicans, Marbled Murrelets and Western Grebes. The Brown Pelican is a federally endangered species and the Marbled Murrelet is a federally threatened species and an endangered species under California law.

Cota is charged with one count of violating the CWA and one count of violating the MBTA. The maximum penalty for a misdemeanor violation of the CWA is one year in prison and a $100,000 fine, and the maximum penalty for a misdemeanor violation of the MBTA is 6 months in prison and a $15,000 fine. A criminal information is merely an accusation. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty at trial beyond a reasonable doubt.

The investigation is ongoing and is being conducted by the Coast Guard Investigative Service, the EPA Criminal Investigation Division, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game, Office of Spill Prevention and Response.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Stacey Geis of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California, and David Joyce, Trial Attorney with the Justice Department’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division with the assistance of Ana Guerra.

Pursuant to the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, crime victims are afforded certain statutory rights including the opportunity to attend all public hearings and provide input to the prosecution. Those adversely impacted by the oil spill are encouraged to visit and the Crime Victims’ Rights Act.