Cosco Busan Operators Agree to Pay San Francisco Fishermen $3.65 Million

The hull of the Cosco Busan following its 2007 accident
Two international shipping companies have agreed to pay San Francisco's commercial fishermen $3.65 million in damages for an oil spill that occurred after the Cosco Busan container ship crashed into the Bay Bridge in 2007.

The settlement, announced this morning, will be spread across 120 people in seven different fisheries, according to Stuart Gross, a lawyer for the fishermen. It brings to a close a hard-fought litigation process that ensued after the 900-foot ship leaked 53,000 gallons of highly toxic fuel into the bay when its hull was torn open by the accident.

"This case was long and hard-fought," Gross said. "We did not reach this settlement by sitting on our hands and hoping the defendants would one day step up. That said, the defendants have stepped up. I think they deserve a lot of credit for taking responsibility."

The defendants in the fishermen's class-action lawsuit were Regal Stone Ltd., the vessel's owner; and Fleet Management Ltd., its operator. In August 2009, Fleet Management agreed to pay a $10 million criminal penalty, pleading guilty to federal charges of water pollution and falsifying documents.

The money awarded to fishermen through the settlement, while not insignificant, is not as large as some earlier damage estimates. Court filings on potential economic damages to the fishery originally indicated that tens of millions of dollars could be at stake. Gross said the smaller settlement amount reflects new scientific observations indicating the fisheries could recover relatively well from the oil spill.

In a February 2010 cover story, SF Weekly reported that government scientists were concealing scientific research revealing the full extent of damage done to herring in San Francisco Bay by the spill. Documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) showed that oil from the Cosco Busan had a surprisingly deadly effect on recently spawned fish.

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