COSCO BUSAN Pilot Retires; Does Not Admit Blame in Allision

Captain John Cota's retirement letter filed with CA State Board of Pilot Commissioners, effective 1 October. Cota cites concern for fellow pilots and regrets that his career as a pilot ends on such a note.

In a carefully worded letter to the Califronia State Board of Pilot Commissioners, (Captain) John Cota, the pilot of the ill-fated COSCO BUSAN, has tendered his resignation on 23 June, effective 1 October. In the letter, Cota cites concerns over appearing at any trial before his day in court with the U.S. Government. Cota wrote, "Unfortunately, however, any appearance by me in the trial in the matter of your Accusation prior to the conclusion of the Government's criminal case would almost certainly require me to invoke my rights under the 5th Amendment of the United States Constitution."

Cota was the pilot on the bridge of the COSCO BUSAN when it allided with the Bay Bridge in San Francisco Harbor in November of last year. In his resignation letter, he denies blame in the incident by saying, "I regret that I have to end my career as a pilot of 27 years on such a note. In doing so, however, I do not admit fault for the allision." Cota still faces numerous charges related to the incident. The November 7th allision involving the 900-foot cargo ship sliced a hole in its hull and eventually led to the leaking of about 53,000 gallons of fuel into the Bay.

The letter obtained yesterday by THE MARITIME EXECUTIVE also alludes to Cota's concern for his fellow pilots, as well as the problems caused by the incident for the State Board of Pilot Commissioners. But, Cota's resignation does not end the controversy for California regulatory officials. With a September 1st hearing on the statewide level looming large in the window, local officials now must decide whether to abandon that effort in lieu of Cota's resignation, or proceed with the trial, as scheduled. Reliable MarEx sources, close to the fray in California, said on Wednesday, "We do things on a quarterly basis out here. Hence, his resignation would not be effective until October. Whether or not his resignation makes the trial a moot point is still to be determined."

The COSCO BUSAN allision has reawakened the national discussion on marine pilots and specifically, what their exposure might be in this type of situation. Traditionally, and in the past, the local pilot has been considered "an advisor to the Master only." That metric is changing, apparently. Maritime industry insiders will be watching closely in the coming months to see what transpires. In the meantime, only one thing is for certain: Captain John Cota will no longer be piloting vessels in San Francisco Bay. What that means for other pilots, nationwide, is still unclear. – MarEx

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