San Francisco News

Cosco Busan pilot sentenced to 10 months

Friday, July 17, 2009

The man piloting the Cosco Busan when it hit the Bay Bridge and spilled all that oil was sentenced to 10 months in prison. He could have received a lighter sentence, but the judge says she had to follow the letter of the law.

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Former bar pilot John Cota left the San Francisco Federal Building after being sentenced to 10 months in prison for his role in the 2007 Cosco Busan oil spill. As part of an earlier plea agreement, prosecutors agreed to a sentence of two to 10 months.

Cota was not expecting today's outcome.

"Stunned, just stunned, that's it," he said.

His lawyer says the sentence is unjust because many people contributed to the accident.

"From the beginning, the government has decided to focus its immense resources on Captain Cota and hold him solely responsible for the acts of many and the errors of many," said attorney Jeffrey Bornstein.

Cota apologized in court and said, "I willingly accept my responsibility for my role in the accident that spilled oil and killed birds."

Cota's wife tearfully asked the judge for mercy in sentencing her husband, saying he has already paid for his mistakes by losing his career and paying $500,000 in legal bills so far.

Later she explained why she felt she had to speak out in court.

"I don't think people often see the human face that comes from the media in what you guys will decide to put on the news tonight," said Cota's wife Teresa Barrett.

The judge called this a difficult case, but said the law requires a minimum sentence of 10 months.

The environmental group Baykeeper says for protecting the bay, Cota's sentence is far less important than ongoing changes to laws and policy.

"There were a lot of factors that day that caused the spill and since then, the harbor safety rules have been changed so that ships under really bad weather conditions cannot leave the port," said Sarah Aminzadeh from Baykeeper.

The Cosco Busan container ship spilled 53,000 gallons of oil into the bay after hitting the Bay Bridge. More than 2,000 birds died and clean-up cost an estimated $70 million.

Cota begins serving his time on September 18th.

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