REMARKS by U.S. assistant attorney general on Cosco Busan case

The following is a transcript of remarks by U.S. Assistant Attorney General Ignacia Moreno, speaking at the announcement of the settlement in the Cosco Busan casualty case:
Good afternoon. My name is Ignacia Moreno, and I am the Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division at the United States Department of Justice.

I am pleased to be here with our federal, state, and local partners who responded to the M/V Cosco Busan oil spill.

I would like to acknowledge the Secretary of the Department of the Interior Ken Salazar, United States Attorney for the Northern District of California Melinda Haag, California Attorney General Kamala Harris, the United States Coast Guard who responded to the spill, the natural resources trustees, state and city officials, and others who played a role in the response.

We are here today to announce a comprehensive civil settlement with the owner, operator, and pilot of the M/V Cosco Busan, a vessel that spilled thousands of gallons of oil into the San Francisco Bay after alliding with the Bay Bridge on the morning of November 7, 2007.

The settlement requires Regal Stone Limited and Fleet Management Limited to pay more than $44 million for natural resource damages and penalties, and to reimburse the government entities for response costs incurred as a result of the spill.

On that November morning, the Bay became the scene of an unprecedented disaster. For the first time since the structure was built over 70 years ago, a vessel crashed into the Bay Bridge. The impact caused a deep gash in the hull of the ship – the M/V Cosco Busan – spilling about 53,000 gallons of bunker oil into the Bay.

The governments – federal, state, and local – responded swiftly and decisively. Just 23 days after the spill, the United States filed a lawsuit in federal court against the ship ’ s owner, operator, and the ship ’ s pilot, John J. Cota. The city and county of San Francisco and several state agencies also filed actions asserting claims in state court.

The United States Attorney’s Office and the Environmental Crimes Section of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division also responded and criminally prosecuted Mr. Cota and Fleet Management.

As you may know, Mr. Cota pled guilty in 2009 and was sentenced to 10 months in prison, and Fleet Management pled guilty in 2010 and was ordered to pay a $10 million criminal fine.

The Bay is the largest estuary on the Pacific Coast of North America, and one of California’s most important ecological habitats for wildlife. It is also a recreational resource for millions of residents and visitors. The shoreline habitats of the Bay and the coast outside the Bay provide an unbroken chain of vital habitat for many species of plants and animals, including millions of migrating waterfowl.

The M/V Cosco Busan oil spill had a major impact on the San Francisco Bay and beyond, oiling over 100 miles of shoreline habitat. It killed thousands of birds and impacted a significant portion of the Bay’s 2007-2008 herring spawn. It closed the Bay and area beaches to recreation and fishing.

Oil from the spill washed over and stranded beaches, smothering and fouling invertebrates and other fauna upon which fish, birds, and other wildlife depend. The oil spill injured sensitive marshland, tidal flats, and rocky intertidal habitat.

Of the $44 million that the defendants will pay under today’s settlement, almost $37 million will be devoted to assessing injuries and conducting restoration projects. A $1.25 million penalty will go to the State of California, and the remainder will be used to reimburse the federal, state, and local governments for their response costs.

This comprehensive settlement achieves full compensation for the significant natural resources that were injured as a result of the M/V Cosco Busan oil spill. It also forms the foundation for the complete restoration of precious lost natural resources, park system resources, and compensates for lost recreation uses for the benefit and enjoyment of the people of the San Francisco Bay Area and for all Americans.

In closing, I would like to thank Assistant Attorney General Tony West and the Civil Division at the Justice Department for their partnership in this case.

I would like to recognize trial attorney Brad O’Brien and paralegal Lorraine Gonzales of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and Mike Underhill of the Civil Division, who with others, did an outstanding job in achieving the settlement announced today.

I also extend my gratitude to all of the great lawyers, scientists, paralegals and other professionals and staff who worked tirelessly toward this successful outcome.

The partnership among federal, state, and local governments in this case should serve as a model for what can be achieved when we collaborate and leverage our resources.

Now, I would like to introduce California Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird. Mr. Laird has three decades of distinguished service to the people of California, and it’s my pleasure to introduce him to you today.

Thank you very much.

By Professional Mariner Staff