MarEx Mailbag:

The Mailbag is full and continues to receive input on the COSCO BUSAN “Game Changer” piece.

Two weeks ago, our lead piece referenced the DOJ’s most recent press release on the COSCO BUSAN allision, the fate of the pilot in that matter, and the potential ramifications for marine pilots everywhere. The article, entitled, “Game Changer: Reflecting Back on the COSCO BUSAN Debacle,” was, far and away, the most widely opened article in this e-newsletter in more than two years. Not surprisingly, the article also triggered a flood of mail in similar volumes; too numerous to put all of them online last. We got a few more in this week that were worth sharing. Two of these letters point out that those committing mistakes are more likely to get a severe sentence – even jail time – than someone who willfully commits a crime. You can read our July 30th editorial by clicking HERE. Or, simply read on to see what others thought about the matter:

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Dear Joe,

I attended the sentencing of Captain John Cota (my uncle) on July 17th. When the allision occurred I expected some form of jail time for several individuals. I consider this a game changer for one significant reason: Captain Cota received nearly twice the prison time than some one pleading guilty to a "magic pipe" violation. That one person out of a group who contributed to the error chain can receive more prison time than some one who willfully and conscientiously violates pollution laws is unfathomable. The plea was for between 2 and 10 months of prison time and Captain Cota's probation officer recommended 3 months of prison time. The judge was consistent in the 3 sentencings that day. In each instance she sentenced to the maximum time allowed. She also referred to Captain Cota's plea agreement as generous and was indignant that more individuals were not prosecuted. If the prosecutor had not granted immunity to the COSCO BUSAN crew prior to completion of the NTSB investigation some of the crew would be enjoying our "American hospitality". The pattern of misconduct against sea farers is growing on a global scale and this is only exacerbates recruiting and retaining skilled mariners. I started working in the maritime industry before my 15th birthday and I can not wait to leave the industry.

Steven A. Palmer
Masters, Mates and Pilots
Currently Chief Mate APL Korea

MarEx Editor’s Remarks: An eye witness account of the sentencing. To say that there are inconsistencies in the the justice system for this type of thing would be a gross understatement.

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I just read the responses that you elicited from your Cosco Busan editorial.
These represent the most useful and comprehensive analysis of the whole pilot-master relationship that I have read.

Congratulations! Excellent reportage.

Alan Haig-Brown
A. Haig-Brown & Assoc. Ltd.

MarEx Editor’s Remarks: Alan writes in from time to time and we use his submissions in the e-newsletters, as well. Thsanks for your kind words, Alan. Read on for another letter:

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Dear Joe,

I had intended to remain silent on this article, but after reading the various posts I thought I would add my 2 cents.

Although the particulars of this case are troubling and the sentencing over the top in my opinion, it is clear to me that the role of the pilot is advisory in nature and has always been such. In the 20+ years I sailed I relieved the Pilot of his advisory role three times, the first time being my first command and first port visit. When I was working my way up through the ranks I sailed with a Captain who made a simple statement to me during a strenuous port passage "The only one that will lose my license is me!" I took that advice seriously and made a point of ensuring that my license would not be lost due to someone else's poor judgment. I think that is good advice for all mariners.

Dean Kalmukos

MarEx Editor’s Remarks: I think that’s good advice, as well. Just one more and I saved the best for last this week:

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Dear Joe,

Regarding the treatment and criminalization of seafarers and in particular the pilot of the COSCO BUSAN, it is pretty clear that if there was not a double-standard, there would be no standard at all.

To put the imprisonment of the pilot of the Cosco Busan in context:

In August 2008, a U.S. District Judge sentenced a US Coast Guard NCO to two years probation for making a false statement to investigators. He pleaded guilty to the charge earlier in the year. The man was a chief warrant officer 2nd class and the engineering department's main propulsion assistant aboard the Honolulu-based Coast Guard cutter Rush on March 2006 when he ordered subordinates to bypass the vessel's oily water separator systems and dump untreated bilge waste directly into the harbor. According to the indictment of the 25-year Coast Guard veteran, investigators determined there were 10 other discharges of untreated bilge water into the ocean while the Rush was performing law enforcement patrols off Central America and South America between September and December 2005 (information from the Honolulu Star-Bulletin).
If you spill oil while navigating a vessel and your actions lead to an oil spill, you go to jail. However, a different standard applies if you intentionally dump oil as a Coast Guard NCO and lie about it.

However, the critical lesson from the COSCO BUSAN is: If you have had an accident and USCG and/or NTSB investigators arrive on scene and tell you that they are only there to perform a safety investigation, your response is very simple:

"I have the right to remain silent. Anything I say can and will be used against me in a court of law. In accordance with the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, I am asserting my right to have an attorney present during questioning."

If I was the designated person for a ship management company, I would include this response in the company SMS manual and all my officers would have a laminated copy of this to reference in the event of an accident.

Bob Ford
Chantilly, Virginia

MarEx Editor’s Remarks: Mr. Ford reports that he was the Investigator in Charge at the NTSB for the Staten Island Ferry - Andrew J. Barberi. His letter speaks volumes as to the fairness (or lack thereof) in the system today. Thanks for writing and reading, Bob.

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