On July 23, 2008, a federal grand jury in San Francisco returned a second superseding indictment charging Fleet Management Limited with negligently causing the discharge of 50,000 gallons of oil from the Cosco Busan and falsifying documents after the crash to cover-up the company’s negligence. 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.
Fleet Management, a Hong Kong based ship management company, was responsible for operating the Cosco Busa. Fleet Management was charged with six felony counts for making false statements and obstruction justice. According to the indictment, Fleet Management, acting through senior ship officers and shore-based supervisory officials, concealed and covered-up documents with the intent to impede, obstruct and influence the investigation of the spill. According to the indictment, the falsified documents include a fictitious passage plan for November 7, 2007, the day of the crash, as well as two prior voyages made after Fleet Management assumed management responsibility of the vessel in October 2007.
The indictment also charges Fleet Management with misdemeanor crimes for violating the Clean Water Act (“CWA”), as amended by the Oil Spill Act of 1990, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Fleet Management was charged as a co-defendant with Captain John Cota, a California ship pilot responsible for assisting the ship to safely transit the internal waters. The indictment charges that on November 7, 2007, Fleet Management and Cota were both responsible for negligently causing the discharge because they failed to stay on a collision free course, failed to prepare and review an adequate passage plan before departure, departed in heavy fog, proceeded at an unsafe speed despite limited visibility, failed to use the vessel’s radar on the final approach, failed to operate properly the vessel’s electronic chart system, as well as other navigational errors. Fleet Management is also charged with negligence for failing to adequately train the new crew that it had placed on the ship and failing to post an adequate lookout. According to the indictment, these failures led to the Cosco Busan striking the bridge and discharging oil into San Francisco Bay.
Cota is also charged with making false statements to the United States Coast Guard in 2006 and 2007 concerning his medications and medical conditions. Cota certified that all the information he provided on required medical forms was complete and true to the best of his knowledge when it was neither complete nor true, including information regarding his current medications, the dosage, possible side effects and medical conditions for which the medications were taken.
The maximum penalty for Fleet Management’s alleged felony obstruction and false statements offenses is a criminal fine of $500,000.00 per count or twice the gross gain or loss caused by the offense. The maximum penalty for a misdemeanor violation of the CWA is $200,000.00 or twice the gross gain or loss caused by the offense. The maximum penalty for a Migratory Bird Act violation is a $10,000.00 fine or twice the gross gain or loss caused by the offense.
As always, feel free to call me or e-mail me with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.