Tanker Hits Bridge Causes San Francisco Investigation: Was The Captain Drunk?

By Staff Reporter on January 8, 2013 3:37 PM EST

Overseas Reymer Tanker
Overseas Reymar Tanker struck the tower base of the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge. Authorities will perform drug tests on the captain and crew as part of the investigation on the cause of the accident (Photo: Reuters)

The 752-foot Overseas Reymar tanker crashed into the middle tower of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge on Monday.

The tanker managed to cause a significant amount of property damage, estimated at more than $500,000, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Thankfully carrying an empty tank at the time, the collision was far less severe than what it could have been.

Following the incident, NTSB announced that it would carry out a full investigation to understand the nature of the accident. The bridge was modified for safety once before after another tanker, the Cosco Busan, collided with another tower belonging to the same bridge in 2007.

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The bridge collision in November 2007 with the 902-foot Cosco Busan caused a devastating spill of as much as 53,000 gallons of oil into San Francisco Bay. In fact, it contaminated 26 miles of shoreline and killed more than 2,500 birds and destroyed crab-fishing season for the fishermen.

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

Now, beyond the integrity of the second bridge tower after the hit, NTSB will also conduct an investigation on the tens of thousands of gallons of oils spilled into the bay. The crash is considered a "major marine casualty."

While approximately 30 to 40 feet of "fender" material must be replaced after the accident, authorities say that the bridge itself only sustained minor damage and opened up once again after the incident was contained. California Emergency Management Agency spokesman Jordan Scott says the superstructure of the bridge is not damaged.

Investigators will also inspect the ship's hull above and below the water line. That said, Coast Guard spokesman Shawn Lansing reports that the hull wasn't breached.

According to investigators, weather conditions during the incident provided visibility of up to a quarter-mile. Officials determined that visibility did not play a factor in the crash. Secondly, the crew did not report any loss of steering or propulsion controls. What's more, initial investigations did not indicate any water leaking from the ballast tanks.

The pilot, whose name is not released, will report to the state Board of Pilot Commissioners for an independent investigation. The Board is specifically formed to regulate bar pilots, or pilots that guide large vessels into the San Francisco bay. The pilot of the Overseas Reymar vessel has been a San Francisco bar pilot since 2005, says San Francisco Bar Pilots Association spokesman Charlie Goodyear.

Thankfully, no one on the vessel was injured. However, given that no weather conditions or mechanical failures occurred ahead of the crash, the pilot of the tanker as well as the crew aboard must all conduct test for drugs or alcohol as per federal regulations.

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