A Petaluma man who piloted a cargo ship that caused a major environmental disaster in 2007 recently began serving a 10-month federal prison sentence.

John Cota has begun serving the sentence for his role in the Cosco Busan oil spill, said his attorney, Jeff Bornstein, who did not disclose where Cota is being held.

During the incident, on Nov. 7, 2007, approximately 53,000 gallons of oil were discharged when the ship collided with the San Francisco Bay Bridge.

The discharge of heavy fuel oil from the Cosco Busan spoiled 26 miles of shoreline, killed more than 2,400 birds of some 50 species, temporarily closed a fishery on the bay and delayed the start of crab-fishing season.

Tens of millions of dollars in damages were caused to the bridge, ship and private parties. Cleanup costs have totaled around $70 million.

In March, Cota pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor crimes of illegally discharging oil in the bay and killing thousands of birds.

In exchange for the pleas, federal prosecutors dropped two felony charges that Cota lied on annual medical forms required by the U.S. Coast Guard.

The plea deal called for Cota to serve two to 10 months in prison, and on July 17, he was given a 10-month sentence.

Jeff Bornstein, Cota?s attorney, had asked the U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston to give Cota a two-month sentence. Also, Petaluma Vice Mayor Teresa Barrett, Cota?s wife, requested a lenient sentence, saying that her family had spent more than $500,000 on legal fees and faced more financial problems due to other pending lawsuits against Cota.

On July 28, Illston rejected an appeal by Bornstein to allow Cota to serve half of the sentence in home confinement. Due to a foot injury, Cota did not begin serving his sentence when originally scheduled.

Cota was licensed by the Coast Guard and state of California as a bar pilot. He was a member of the San Francisco Bar Pilots and was employed in the San Francisco Bay since 1981.

Barrett did not return phone calls requesting comment on her husband?s incarceration.

(Contact Dan Johnson at dan.johnson@arguscourier.com)