Cosco Busan Incident

The COSCO Busan incident refers to a large oil spill that took place on November 7, 2007 between Oakland and San Francisco, California.  At approximately 8:30 am local time, the container ship COSCO Busan struck a tower (Delta) of the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge.  The collision caused over 53,500 gallons of IFO-380 heavy fuel oil to be released into the San Francisco Bay.

A state of emergency was declared by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger met with federal, state and local officials involved with the clean up.  The state of emergency allowed access to additional funding, equipment and state personnel to assess and clean up the environmental damage.


After a thorough investigation of all factors involved with the accident, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the following were the factors that contributed to the incident:

Pilot John Cota performance and judgment were impaired from the use of prescription pharmaceuticals and ignoring many health hints. His impaired performance interfered with his ability to use the onboard radar and electronic maps correctly.  Cota was later sentenced to federal prison for ten months.

Ineffective communications between the ship and the Vessel Traffic Service of the US Coast Guard.  Additionally, there was deemed to be a lack of sufficient communication between the Pilot (John Cota) and Master Mao Cai Sun leading up to the accident.  The investigation also revealed poor oversight of Cota by Sun.

Fleet Management, LTD which operated the COSCO Busan was also found to have contributed to the incident by failing to properly train and monitor the vessel’s crew.  Recommendations were made for e-Learning and mobile learning solutions.  Specifically, the crew was found to have not properly understood and comply with the company’s safety management system.

Caltran was deemed at fault because of their failure to maintain foghorns on the bridge, which were silent despite the heavy fog.

The COSCO Busan was also found to have a radar that was not working.  This led to the use of an electronic chart.  Captain Sun was also found to have incorrectly identified symbols on the electronic chart and inappropriate use.

Finally, the US Coast Guard provided inadequate medical oversight of Cota considering the medical information he reported to the Coast Guard.


A federal grand jury indicted Fleet Management Ltd on July 23, 2008.  Fleet Management, based in Hong Kong, was the company that operated the COSCO Busan.  The indictment covered 6 felonies accusing the company of falsifying documents involved in the federal investigation.  Numerous misdemeanors were also cited involving criminal negligence for causing the spill.  Officials noted that training and education were a factor in the incident.  For more information, please visit this site.

Pilot John Cota negotiated a plea agreement with prosecutors regarding the charges for federal water pollution and migratory bird charges.  On July 10, 2009 he was sentenced to 10 months in federal prison.

Environmental Impact

The spilled heavy fuel spread rapidly due to the tidal mechanics of the San Francisco Bay.  Ultimately, a large area of the California North Coast was affected, including: Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Ocean Beach,Marin Headlands, Crissy Field, Fort Point, Baker Beach, China Beach and Kirby Cove.

2,519 birds were identified to have been killed by the incident, according to the California Department of Fish and Game.  1,084 birds were collected alive, of which 664 ultimately died and 421 were rehabilitated and released.   The remaining 1,856 birds were collected already dead.  Approximately 200 miles of coastline were covered in oil which also caused other impact such as seal deaths, and the deaths of the eggs laid by herring.