Record settlement reached in 2007 San Francisco Bay oil spill

Federal, state, and local officials announced a settlement in which owners of a container ship, which struck the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and spilled 1,261 bbl of fuel oil into the bay, agreed to pay $44.4 million to resolve all penalties, resource damages, and response costs. It was the largest settlement under the 1990 Oil Pollution Act, they noted on Sept. 19.

Regal Stone Ltd. and Fleet Management Ltd., owners and operators of the M/V Cosco Busan, reached the settlement with the US Department of Justice, the State of California, the City and County of San Francisco, and the City of Richmond for the Nov. 7, 2007, incident (OGJ Online, Nov. 12, 2007). The event killed thousands of birds, aversely affected a large part of the bay’s 2008 herring spawn, spoiled miles of shoreline, and closed the bay and area beaches to recreation and fishing, officials said.

They said the portion of the settlement for lost human uses of the shoreline and the bay, $18.8 million, constitutes one of the largest human use recoveries for any oil spill in the US. Of this amount, the National Park Service is receiving $9.75 million to improve coastal access and facilities in the bayside, coastal and estuarine areas of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park and Point Reyes National Seashore.

The remaining $9 million will be disbursed either directly to local governments as part of the consent decree or through a grant program to fund shoreline recreational projects throughout the impacted spill areas, they indicated. The settlement is subject to a 30-day comment period, which begins when it is published in the Federal Register, before it becomes final.

In conjunction with the consent decree, the federal and state trustees will publish a separate notice in the Federal Register seeking comments on the Draft M/V Cosco Busan Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan (DARP). After considering public comments, the trustees will produce a final DARP selecting projects to be funded with $32 million from this settlement. The draft plan will be available shortly for public comment, according to officials. They said that two public meetings will be held to present a brief overview of the restoration plan and receive public comments.

The settlement followed earlier criminal indictments brought by the Environmental Crimes Section of DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and the US Attorney’s Office for the Northern California District.

DOJ said that John J. Cota, the vessel’s pilot, pleaded guilty in 2009 and was sentenced to 10 months in prison for negligently causing the discharge and killing migratory birds. Fleet Management was sentenced in 2010 after pleading guilty in the criminal case to negligently causing the discharge and obstructing justice. It was ordered to pay $10 million in criminal penalties, including $2 million for local environmental projects, for its role in causing the Cosco Busan oil discharge and obstruction of justice charges for a subsequent cover-up in which it falsified ship records after the crash.

Contact Nick Snow at

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