SAN FRANCISCO — The pilot of an empty oil tanker that crashed into the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge was involved in three previous accidents, records obtained Tuesday show.
Pilot Guy Kleess was held responsible for two of the accidents and ordered to undergo more training after a ship he was piloting damaged a dock in Stockton in 2009, according to records from the state Board of Pilot Commissioners.
The disclosure came as two federal agencies and the state board pursued investigations of the crash of the 752-foot tanker Overseas Reymar.
The U.S. Coast Guard classified the accident as a "major marine casualty" because it exceeded $500,000 in property damage. However, no oil leaks were reported and the bridge remained open. No crew members were injured.
Human error is one factor being explored by the Coast Guard as a possible cause of the crash. Visibility at the time was about a quarter-mile, but officials didn't say if that was a factor.
The National Transportation Safety Board said it will coordinate its investigation with the Coast Guard and proceed in light of safety recommendations made after a container ship, the Cosco Busan, hit a nearby tower on the same bridge in 2007.
That crash, also reviewed by the NTSB, spilled 53,000 gallons of oil into the bay, contaminated 26 miles of shoreline, and killed more than 2,500 birds.
Capt. John Cota, the pilot of the Cosco Busan, was sentenced to 10 months in prison after pleading guilty to two misdemeanors. The ship's owners paid $60 million in criminal and civil penalties.
The state board licensed Kleess in 2005 after he completed a two-year training program and joined an elite cadre of mariners who are required by state law to guide every large vessel in the San Francisco Bay and other Northern California waterways.
Board records show Kleess was involved in three prior shipping accidents. He was found at fault in two of the incidents, and all were considered minor, agency chief Allen Garfinkle said.
"They in no way reflect on his skill," Garfinkle said.
Kleess was held blameless when the bow of a ship he was piloting in the Sacramento River on Aug. 27, 2009, "took a sudden sheer to the left" and ran into the bank at slow speed, according to a report to the Legislature.
Two days later, Kleess was found at fault when a ship he was piloting damaged a dock in the Port of Stockton. No damage estimate was provided for repairing a wooden pylon used to support a catwalk.
Kleess agreed to undergo four training runs in the narrow and shallow inland waterways that Garfinkle said are the toughest routes for pilots to navigate.
"Only our most elite pilots go up there," Garfinkle said. "It takes a special person to do that type of work."
The commissioners' 2010 annual report showed Kleess also was held responsible for allowing a ship he was piloting on May 26, 2010, to stray into shallow water in the Richmond Inner Harbor, causing a tug boat tending the ship to briefly run aground. The board found there was minimal damage and Kleess wasn't disciplined for the incident.
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