Pilot of Tanker that Hit Bay Bridge Was Involved in Three Other Accidents Since 2009
The pilot operating the tanker that hit the Bay Bridge yesterday morning had been in three other accidents since 2009, the Associated Press reported.
Albert Samaha The Overseas Reymar in the Bay yesterday.
Guy Kleess, who has been licensed to handle big vessels in Northern California waters since 2005, was found responsible for two of those accidents. The news on Kleess directly contradicts what Charlie Goodyear, a spokesman for the San Francisco Bar Pilots association, told the Chronicle yesterday:
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Kleess, 61, a resident of San Francisco, has a clean record as a pilot, Goodyear said.
"He had previously been a ship's captain, and I think that experience included captaining oil tankers," Goodyear said. "He is a very experienced mariner."
Kleess is certainly an experienced mariner. But, in fact, he did not have a completely clean record. His first accident, according to California Board of Pilot Commissioners, occurred in the Sacramento River in August 2009, when the front of his ship "ran into the bank at a slow speed." He was found blameless for that one.
But, two days later, his ship "damaged a dock in the Port of Stockton. No damage estimate was provided for repairing a wooden pylon used to support a catwalk," the AP wrote. He was held responsible for that one. He was also held responsible in May 2010, when his ship strayed "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."
After the Port of Stockton incident, Klees was ordered go through four training runs "in the narrow and shallow inland waterways that [state Board of Pilot Commissioners chief Allen] Garfinkle said are the toughest routes for pilots to navigate."
"Only our most elite pilots go up there," Garfinkle told the AP. "It takes a special person to do that type of work."
Despite the accidents, Garfinkle maintained to the news agency that Kless is an able pilot: "They in no way reflect on his skill."
Indeed, Northern California's waterways, particularly the San Francisco Bay, are notoriously challenging for ship handlers. So much so that only a select few, talented pilots are licensed to operate large vessels in the region. Those pilots must complete a two-year training course. Klees was one of "an elite cadre of mariners," as the AP called them.
While a ship is in the Bay, the pilot gives orders to the helmsman, who steers the ship. As of now, the Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating exactly how the "Overseas Reymar," a 751-foot oil tanker based in the Marshall Islands and owned by OSG Ship Management, ran into the eastern tower of the Bay Bridge's western stretch.
The accident took place around 11:20 a.m. yesterday. There was a quarter-mile of visibility, which is pretty thick fog. Still, as the Chron reported, "all the navigational aids designed to alert pilots to the presence of the bridge appeared to be working correctly, officials said."
The paper also explained:
The tanker left a dock near the Shell refinery in Martinez early Monday before passing south under the Bay Bridge. It briefly anchored, then turned around and headed back north, according to the ship's track on MarineTraffic.com, a commercial ship-tracking website.
The ship was traveling at 11.8 knots when it hit the tower.
The tanker was empty, and no oil spilled. Traffic remained open on the bridge, which was not significantly damaged. The ship suffered scrapes to the side. Because the total property damage estimates exceeded $500,000, though, the Coast Guard has classified the accident as a "major marine casualty."
It was the second time in six years that an oil tanker his a bridge tower. The last time, in November 2007, had much, much worse consequences. The "Cosco Busan" tanker spilled 50,000-plus gallons of oil into the Bay. That collision killed 7,000 birds, resulted in a $3.65 million settlement between the shipping company and local fisherman, and, as SF Weekly reported in 2010, led federal and state scientists to conceal their findings from the public.