Pilot changed course before ship hit SF Bay Bridge

January 15, 2013 - 4:32 PM

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The pilot of the empty oil tanker that sideswiped the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge made a course change immediately before clipping a support tower, a newspaper reported Tuesday.

The San Jose Mercury News (http://tinyurl.com/ay2yp66 ) reported that Capt. Guy Kleess initially indicated he planned to sail the 752-foot Overseas Reymar between two towers near the middle of the span on Jan. 7. But San Francisco port agent Capt. Peter McIsaac said Kleess then tried to steer the vessel through a different opening as he approached the bridge.

McIsaac said it's unclear why Kleess made the late course change in foggy conditions amid a strong current.

"You are going across at a fairly acute angle. It's not an easy maneuver to do," McIsaac told the newspaper.

The Coast Guard continues to investigate the incident, which damaged about 30 feet of protective fender material but did no structural damage to the bridge.

The paper also said that Kleess' attorney, Rex Clack, said the pilot was well-rested and had been off-duty for 39 hours prior to boarding the Overseas Reymar at 10:30 a.m., about an hour before the accident.

All vessels longer than 100 feet entering, leaving and transiting through the San Francisco Bay must be controlled by a local pilot trained to navigate Northern California waterways.

The Coast Guard reported that Kleess and the crew tested negative for alcohol and drug use. Coast Guard spokesman Dan Dewell said the investigation could take months.

This is the second-time since 2007 a large vessel controlled by a local pilot struck the Bay Bridge.

A cargo ship operated by Capt. John Cota struck the bridge on a foggy morning in November 2007, spilling 53,000 gallons of oil into the bay. Cota later pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors environmental charges and was sentenced to 10 months in prison. The companies that owned and operated the cargo ship paid a combined $60 million to settle lawsuits and criminal charges.

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Information from: San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News, http://www.mercurynews.com