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Fallout from the San Francisco spill

The pilot of a container ship that spilled 58,000 gallons of bunker fuel oil in San FranciscoBay was charged with misconduct a month after the 901-foot Cosco Busan struck a BayBridge support, tearing open three of its fuel tanks.

A few days later, the City of San Francisco filed a lawsuit charging negligence against the owners and operators of the ship.

Coast Guard Sector San Francisco requested Capt. John J. Cota voluntarily surrender his Federal Merchant Marine Officer’s license to the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard states in a press release that it believes Cota isn’t physically competent to maintain the license. If Cota refuses to surrender, the Coast Guard says it can charge him with incompetence and seek suspension or revocation of the license.

The state’s investigation into the Nov. 7 accident found that Cota ordered full speed ahead (about 10 knots) despite limited visibility in fog (1/10 of a mile), concerns about the operational status of the ship’s radars, unfamiliarity with the ship’s ECDIS electronic chart system, and suspected discrepancies with the ship’s paper charts.

A cleanup effort by more than 700 people, both on the water and on shore, followed the accident. Nearly 2,000 bird and marine life deaths were attributed to the spill, according to the Coast Guard.

Following criticism for a delayed response to the accident, the Coast Guard replaced Capt. William Uberti, commander for the bay region, with Capt. Paul Gugg to oversee the cleanup and investigation of the accident. Uberti subsequently retired from the Coast Guard. All crewmembers and the pilot on board Cosco Busan passed drug and alcohol tests. Cota, 60, reportedly has been a San Francisco Bar Pilot for 26 years.

An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board will include an examination of the response by the Coast Guard and the owner the vessel, Regal Stone, of Hong Kong. Launched six years ago, Cosco Busan was bound for South Korea.

The top reasons why sailboats sink

A study of 100 sailboat sinkings from BoatU.S. insurance claims revealed that the incidents are divided evenly into two categories: at the dock and under way. Striking a submerged object was the cause of 40 percent of sinkings while under way, followed by a broken prop shaft or strut (16 percent) and damaged or deteriorated fittings below the waterline (16 percent).

“Prop shaft corrosion seems to be a bigger issue with sailboats than with powerboats, as auxiliary sailboat engines are not run as often, allowing corrosion to set in,” says BoatU.S. marine insurance technical director Bob Adriance.

The most common cause of dockside sinkings was the result of deteriorated, damaged or corroded fittings such as intakes, seacocks and drains below the waterline (44 percent). Stuffing box leaks (33 percent) were next on the list, followed by problems with the keel and centerboard (7 percent).

In other news, the BoatU.S. Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water is offering grants of up to $4,000 for non-profit groups to develop projects that help stop the spread of invasive species on local waterways. Since 1997 the annual program has awarded more than $250,000 in grants, funding 129 projects in 35 states.

This year’s application deadline is Feb. 1. To view previous grant projects or learn more about invasive species, visit www.boatus.com/foundation . Applications can be submitted electronically or by mail.

Are paper charts really necessary?

OceanGrafix, which offers print-on-demand nautical charts, has released a white paper titled, “Print-on-Demand Paper Charts: Why Serious Mariners Continue to Carry Paper Charts to Complement Digital Navigational Tools.” The paper addresses the importance of having accurate paper charts on board and why recreational boaters should use them in conjunction with navigation electronics.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issues 100 or more chart updates each week in the form of Notices to Mariners, and navigational tools such as chart kits and GPS may not reflect those changes, the paper states.

“Seasoned mariners know it’s not safe to rely on just one means of navigation,” says OceanGrafix president Dave DeGree. “Some boaters are making the mistake of relying only on technology, failing to remember that it is not foolproof and may not be as accurate as they believe. Without paper charts, they quickly can get into trouble due to outdated information or even electrical failure.”

The white paper can be downloaded for free at

www.oceangrafix.com/ap/white_paper.pdf.

Weather service adds forecast gadget

AccuWeather.com has launched a new forecast “gadget” for iGoogle, the Internet search engine’s customizable home page. The new gadget — a Web-connected mini-program that brings live information to a computer desktop — offers detailed radar, current conditions, and hour-by-hour, five- and 15-day forecasts at more than 2.7 million locations worldwide.

“Other gadgets often make users choose between radar, forecasts and current conditions,” says Jim Candor, AccuWeather.com senior vice president of new media. “Because ours gives all of these features through one interface that can expand and collapse as needed, it should quickly become one of the most popular weather gadgets.”

The program is compatible with popular iGoogle-supported browsers, including Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera, Safari and Netscape. This is AccuWeather.com’s second iGoogle gadget. iGoogle users also can add the AccuWeather.com Hurricane Center Watch gadget, which allows users to monitor tropical activity with up-to-date headlines, images and videos. All downloads are free and are available at the AccuWeather.comDownloadCenter (www.accuweather.com , then select DownloadCenter from the “Products & Services” drop-down menu).