Investigators: Crew won't talk 

The crew of the cargo ship that spilled 58,000 gallons of oil into the San Francisco Bay last week is refusing to speak with investigators, an official said Wednesday. Members of the Chinese crew have hired lawyers and are now declining to be questioned, said National Transportation Safety Board member Debbie Hersman.

Some had spoken with Coast Guard officials earlier, but new criminal and civil investigations have apparently prompted the crew to refuse interviews, she said.

The spill occurred when a cargo ship's hull was sliced open by a collision with the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in heavy fog Nov. 7, an incident Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called an "unbelievable human failure." Federal prosecutors are conducting a criminal probe into the spill, and the governor also has promised an investigation.

Some crew members were not immediately tested for drugs following the incident, the Coast Guard said Wednesday. They were eventually tested, but outside the legal time limits. Those test results are still pending.

U.S.-based Capt. John Cota, who was piloting the ship, was tested properly for drugs and alcohol, and the results were negative, officials said.

Cota said he immediately reported the presence of oil in the water, but cleanup crews didn't arrive on the scene for nearly 90 minutes. A Coast Guard log places a skimming vessel at the scene in 80 minutes.

Coast Guard officials defended their response as "by the book," but concede mistakes in their communication with the public. Initial reports had the spill at just 140 gallons; the Coast Guard waited hours after learning it was much larger before notifying local officials.

The Coast Guard will review its own response, a process that will include the city of San Francisco, the state of California and others. The aim is to evaluate the Coast Guard's planning and response.

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad Allen said such reviews normally wait until after cleanup operations. But because of the severity in this case, he is getting it under way immediately.

Meanwhile, many out-of-town fishermen were packing up and heading home after Schwarzenegger suspended all commercial and sport fishing in areas affected by the spill. The area's highly anticipated commercial season for Dungeness crab was scheduled to start Thursday but has now been postponed for at least 2 1/2 weeks amid health concerns.

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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