A state board today decided to seek the suspension or revocation of the license of the pilot of an oil tanker that struck the Bay Bridge in January.
The state’s Board of Pilot Commissioners voted unanimously at a hearing in San Francisco this morning to file a formal accusation against Guy Kleess and temporarily suspend his state pilot license.
Kleess was piloting the 752-foot Overseas Reymar when it struck a fender on a tower of the bridge’s western span at about 11:15 a.m. on Jan. 7.
No oil spilled from the boat and no one aboard was injured. The incident caused about $1.6 million in damage to the ship and bridge fender, according to a report released today by an incident review committee for the state board.
While Kleess’ license is suspended, he will not be able to operate any ships pending a legal proceeding with the state’s Office of Administrative Hearings.
At today’s hearing, executive director of the board Allen Garfinkle briefed the commissioners on the report, which outlined the factors that led to the vessel striking the bridge.
Garfinkle called Kleess “complacent” and said he was responsible for the accident because he “relied on his past routine” rather than taking the day’s conditions into account.
According to the report, Kleess relied solely on a 10-cm radar used for longer distances while passing under the bridge in conditions that included poor visibility because of fog.
The report cited his lack of situational awareness and adequate communication with personnel on the ship and authorities who control boat traffic around the bridge, concluding that he “failed to exercise the diligence which other pilots similarly situated would ordinarily have exercised.”
Garfinkle played an audio recording from the vessel at today’s hearing in which Kleess could be heard talking on a satellite phone until shortly before the accident. Just afterward, he could be heard on the recording saying “Oh s—.”
The report includes the transcript of an interview with Kleess, who tried to turn the boat away from the bridge fender shortly before impact.
“There wasn’t much time between when I decided I had to change my span to when I knew I was really in trouble,” Kleess said in the interview. “It was obvious pretty early on in the turn and certainly when I gave it a full hard to port, I knew we were.”
Kleess had three minor incidents on his record after being licensed by the board in 2005, but those incidents did not result in any restrictions placed on his license.
Kleess did not attend today’s hearing but attorney Rex Clack appeared on his behalf.
Clack told the board, “A pilot should not be judged by 20-20 hindsight” and cited his client’s extensive experience, including more than a decade working as a pilot off the shore of Louisiana prior to coming to the Bay Area.
After the board made its decision, Clack said, “We obviously are disappointed by the BOPC’s decision … Nevertheless, we look forward to presenting our case at trial.”
The Board of Pilot Commissioners licenses up to 60 pilots who guide ships through the Bays of San Francisco, San Pablo and Suisun.
The January incident drew increased attention after the 2007 Cosco Busan spill, in which a tanker hit a fender on another tower of the Bay Bridge, causing more than 53,000 gallons of heavy bunker fuel to leak into the Bay.
Dan McMenamin, Bay City News