A lack of communication between crew members played a critical role in the crash of a container ship that led to a massive oil spill in California nearly 15 months ago, U.SD. safety officials said Wednesday.
The 901-foot-long (275-meter) Cosco Busan, owned by a Hong Kong-based company, struck the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in November 2007. Two fuel tanks ruptured and more than 53,000 gallons (20,000 liters) of fuel oil spilled into the San Francisco Bay.
Investigators told the National Transportation Safety Board Wednesday that the ship’s captain and pilot developed no “shared mental model” on how the ship should pass under the bridge in a heavy fog. For example, the safety officials said there was no discussion of the proper speed.
But some members of the National Transportation Safety Board said they saw a more fundamental problem that contributed to the accident.
“This accident started when they left the dock,” said board member Debbie Hersman. “They should have never left the dock in those conditions”
No one was injured, but the spill contaminated 26 miles (42 kilometers) of shoreline. It also killed more than 2,500 birds of about 50 species and delayed the start of the crab-fishing season.
The cleanup cost more than $70 million.
Marine investigator Rob Jones told the board that he believed a competent crew could pass under the bridge despite the poor conditions.
“Ships do depart in fog,” Jones said. “Ships did depart in fog before the Cosco Busan.”
But Hersman replied that a more appropriate question was whether the ship should have attempted to clear the bridge _ not whether it could have done so.
During Wednesday’s hearing, investigators are expected to formally cite the probable cause of the accident and to make recommendation on improving safety. The board can accept or reject the staff’s findings.
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