Shipowners charged with lying 

The operators of the Cosco Busan, the container ship that struck a Bay Bridge support beam last year, have been indicted for allegedly failing to properly train the ship’s crew and falsifying documents to deceive the spill’s investigators.

The 900-foot container ship’s fuel tanks tore open when it struck the Bay Bridge on Nov. 7. Area shorelines remain contaminated from the spill of more than 50,000 gallons of toxic bunker fuel, which killed thousands of birds.

Following a grand jury investigation, U.S. Attorney Joseph Russoniello charged Hong Kong-based Fleet Management Inc. with six felony counts Tuesday related to allegations that company officials made "false, fictitious and fraudulent statements" to investigators.

Fleet Management could be fined more than the value of the damage it caused, according to a U.S. Justice Department statement. Court dates have not been set.

In the indictment, Fleet Management was accused of creating a "passage plan" to guide the ship all of the way from the Port of Oakland to the Port of Pusan in South Korea after the Nov. 7

incident, and for creating similar plans for previous journeys. The officials, who were not named, are alleged to have told investigators the plans were drafted prior to the ship’s journeys.

The passage plan was signed by some of the Chinese crew being held in the United States as material witnesses.

Fleet Management, which operates nearly 200 ships worldwide, has suspended "individuals involved in the misunderstanding of the facts" and plans to investigate the allegations, spokesman Jim Lawrence said.

Fleet Management also was charged with two environmental misdemeanors carrying fines of up to $115,000 for failing to adequately train the crew, and because the crew didn’t use navigation equipment properly or review the ship’s course before setting sail. The agency is already suing the company over the disaster.

The 13-year-old company hired the crew when it took over operations of the ship — now called the Hanjin Venezia — Oct. 24, two weeks before the crash, Fleet Management general manager Nagarajan Subramania testified at a National Transportation Safety Board hearing.

Subramania testified that the crew members had "long years of experience at sea" and came to the company "pretty much trained." Some of them had previously worked together and the crew was "working together well" before the crash, he said.

Petaluma pilot John Cota has been charged with misdemeanors related to the spill and with felonies related to medical documents.

jupton@sfexaminer.com

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