Another chapter in legal battles over a 2007 oil spill in the San Francisco Bay will be closed Friday when a ship management company is sentenced in federal court on three criminal charges.

Fleet Management Ltd. of Hong Kong was the operator of the Cosco Busan, responsible for hiring and training the crew, at the time the container ship struck a fender of a Bay Bridge support pier in heavy fog on Nov. 7, 2007.

More than 53,000 gallons of heavy bunker fuel spilled into the Bay from a gash in the ship’s side.

The spill killed more than 2,000 migratory birds and caused more than $70 million in damage to beaches, wildlife and the fishing industry.

Both Fleet Management and pilot John Cota were charged in federal court with criminal negligence and other offenses.

Cota pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Susan Illston in San Francisco last year to two misdemeanor environmental crimes of negligently polluting the Bay and killing migratory birds, and was sentenced to 10 months in prison.

Fleet Management pleaded guilty in August to one misdemeanor charge of polluting the Bay and two felony charges of obstructing justice and falsifying the ship’s passage plan after the spill.

The company and prosecutors agreed on a recommended penalty of $10 million, but it will be up to Illston at the sentencing in San Francisco on Friday to decide whether to accept it.
Both sides in briefs filed last week urged the judge to impose the recommended fine.

Prosecutors wrote that the company’s acts showed “systematic management failures and a corporate culture that did not put safety first and then sought to cover up the company’s negligence through the deliberate conduct of shore-side managers and ship-board employees.”

Fleet Management said in its brief that its guilty plea “acknowledged its liability for the actions of the crew” and said the company will work with the U.S. Coast Guard to improve crew training.

While the sentencing will end the criminal aspect of the case, several civil lawsuits filed over the oil spill remain pending in federal court in San Francisco.

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