The owners and operators of the Cosco Busan have agreed to pay more than $44 million in restitution for the damage caused when the container ship spilled thousands of gallons of fuel into the San Francisco Bay in 2007.
The ship spilled more than 53,000 gallons of heavy bunker fuel into the Bay on Nov. 7, 2007, killing thousands of migratory birds and spoiling miles of coastline in the region.
Regal Stone Ltd. and Fleet Management Ltd., the Hong Kong-based owners and operators of the vessel, agreed to pay $44.4 million to settle a civil lawsuit filed in response to the spill, state Attorney General Kamala Harris said today.
“This is very good news for this beautiful San Francisco Bay,” Harris said at a news conference on Treasure Island, near where the ship struck a fender of a Bay Bridge support pier in heavy fog while en route from the Port of Oakland to South Korea.
“This bay is the jewel of the San Francisco region, and the Cosco Busan oil spill left a scar across our water,” Harris said. “This settlement will allow us to restore these precious resources to their natural health and beauty.”
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar was among several federal, state and local officials who attended today’s news conference.
Salazar said by reaching the settlement, “We send a loud and clear message, for those who pollute our environment … there is a price to pay, they will be held accountable.”
Of the $44.4 million in the settlement, nearly $37 million is going toward restoring habitats in the region and lost human uses of the shoreline and Bay, said Assistant U.S. Attorney General Ignacia Moreno.
The rest of the money is going to the state, and to reimburse the various agencies who had to respond to the spill, Moreno said.
San Francisco taxpayers will receive $3.6 million of that reimbursement since the city bore the brunt of the initial impact of the spill, City Attorney Dennis Herrera said.
The settlement, which was filed in federal court this morning, will undergo a 30-day public comment period before being finalized, Moreno said.
Jim Lawrence, spokesman for Fleet Management and Regal Stone, said he did not want to comment on the settlement until the 30-day public comment period had passed.
Lawrence did say though that the companies “again say sorry about the accident” and that they’re “deeply appreciative of everyone who helped in the aftermath.”
Fleet Management paid a $10 million penalty last year for three criminal convictions in the case–one misdemeanor charge of negligently polluting the Bay and two felony charges of obstructing justice and falsifying the ship’s passage plan after the spill.
The pilot of the vessel, John Cota, also pleaded guilty in the case in 2009 and was sentenced to 10 months in prison.
Moreno said the civil lawsuit, which was put on hold until criminal proceedings had ended, was “very expedited” considering the amount of scientific data involved in the case.
“The government was moving triple-fast,” she said.
To view the consent decree outlining the terms of the settlement and for more information about the as yet unscheduled public comment period, visit www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.