US agency investigating after tanker hits bridge

Associated Press
The tanker Overseas Reymar travels in the San Francisco bay from Yerba Buena Island, Calif., Monday, Jan. 7, 2013. The empty oil tanker ship struck the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge on Monday, but there were no reports of leaking oil and the bridge remained open to traffic, officials said. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Federal transportation officials said Tuesday they have joined an investigation into the crash of an empty oil tanker into a tower in the middle of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

The National Transportation Safety Board will coordinate its effort with the Coast Guard, which planned Tuesday to interview the pilot of the 752-foot Overseas Reymar.

The NTSB also said it would review Monday's crash in light of safety recommendations made after another tanker, the Cosco Busan, hit a nearby tower on the same bridge in 2007.

That crash, also reviewed by the NTSB, spilled tens of thousands of gallons of oil into the bay.

Monday's crash of the Overseas Reymar has been classified by the Coast Guard as a "major marine casualty" because it exceeded $500,000 in property damage, the NTSB said. No oil leaks were reported.

The unidentified pilot also will report to the state Board of Pilot Commissioners, which will do its own investigation. The board regulates bar pilots, who are required by the state to guide every large vessel while it's in San Francisco Bay.

The pilot of the Overseas Reymar has been a San Francisco bar pilot since 2005, said Charlie Goodyear, a spokesman for the San Francisco Bar Pilots Association. The association did not release his name.

The pilot and others on board will be tested for drug and alcohol use according to federal regulations, Coast Guard spokesman Shawn Lansing said. No crew members were injured.

Investigators also will inspect the hull above and below the water line, but Lansing said it wasn't breached.

Visibility at the time was about a quarter-mile, but officials didn't say if that was a factor in the crash.

The bridge sustained minor damage and remained open after the accident that damaged 30 to 40 feet of "fender" material that will need to be replaced.

The mishap brought back memories of the crash in November 2007 in which the 902-foot Cosco Busan rammed the bridge and spilled 53,000 gallons of oil into San Francisco Bay.

That spill contaminated 26 miles of shoreline, killed more than 2,500 birds and delayed the start of the crab-fishing season.

Capt. John Cota, the pilot of the Cosco Busan, was sentenced to 10 months in prison after pleading guilty to two misdemeanors.

OSG Ship Management Inc., the parent company that owns the Marshall Islands-registered Overseas Reymar, said the accident occurred as the vessel hit an underwater portion of the massive bridge structure. The ship was not carrying oil as cargo, only fuel to power its engines, Goodyear said.

The crew reported no loss of steering or propulsion, and initial investigations showed no water leaks from any of the ballast tanks, said Darrell Wilson, a spokesman for OSG.

California Emergency Management Agency spokesman Jordan Scott said the superstructure of the bridge was fine.

A fender system made of steel and wooden timbers was built onto the west span to absorb such strikes.

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Associated Press writers Lisa Leff, Sudhin Thanawala and Terence Chea contributed to this report.

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Follow Garance Burke on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/garanceburke

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