Pilot That Hit Bay Bridge Denies Breaking Environmental Laws


SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - The pilot of a container ship that spilled
thousands of gallons of oil into San Francisco Bay last November
pleaded not guilty on Friday to breaking two federal environmental

John Cota, 60, was at the helm of the Cosco Busan when it struck
a fender protecting a support tower beneath the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge on Nov. 7. The ship emptied 53,000 gallons of oil into San Francisco Bay, killing or injuring
thousands of birds and closing more than a dozen beaches.

Cota is charged with a misdemeanor count of killing migratory birds and another misdemeanor charge of illegal dumping.

He faces up to 18 months in jail and more than $100,000 in fines if convicted. He is due back in court April 4.

Cota declined comment after the hearing. His attorney Jeffrey Bornstein said he was disappointed that prosecutors filed charges.

"This was an accident," Bornstein said.

Bornstein also complained that prosecutors decided to file charges before the National Transportation Safety Board completes its investigation.

"The decision to charge him criminally is misguided," Bornstein said outside court. "Capt. Cota feels terrible about what happened. He has grown up on this waterfront."

Cota is also named in a Justice Department lawsuit accusing him and the ship's owner, Hong Kong-based Regal Stone Ltd., of negligence and seeking compensation for the clean up.

Some 2,000 birds died, including federally endangered brown pelicans and federally threatened marbled murrelets.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

AP-NY-03-21-08 1411EDT

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