A state board voted Thursday to pursue the license revocation or suspension of the pilot of an empty oil tanker that sideswiped the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in January.
The California Board of Pilot Commissioners made the decision after its Incident Review Committee recommended the disciplinary action against pilot Guy Kleess. The case now goes before an administrative law judge, who can decide to act on or reject the board's decision. Kleess was in control of the 752-foot Overseas Reymar when the oil tanker hit a western-span tower of the bridge on Jan. 7.
The committee concluded Kleess made a risky course change, became complacent and failed to communicate effectively with the crew. "Capt. Kleess lost awareness of what was happening around him and how information, events and his own actions impacted his objectives,'' the panel's report said.
Kleess did not use "ordinary care of an expert in his profession'' when maneuvering the ship and committed misconduct, the report concluded. A message left at Kleess's home was not immediately returned.
His attorney, Rex Clack, said Kleess met the standards of his profession during difficult circumstances. "The standard is not perfection, but reasonable care of a skilled pilot. Furthermore, a pilot should not be judged by 20-20 hindsight,'' he said at Thursday's hearing.
The report found that Kleess changed course because of reduced visibility and the discovery that a radar beacon between two towers of the bridge was not working. The U.S. Coast Guard previously said the ship had been warned it was off course.
The tower's wooden fenders were damaged in the crash, but the bridge remained open. No oil was spilled and there were no injuries.
Clack has said the pilot was rested and had been off-duty for 39 hours before boarding the tanker at 10:30 a.m., about an hour before the crash. Kleess and the crew tested negative for alcohol and drug use, according to the Coast Guard, which is also investigating the incident. Bar pilots are required by state law to guide every large vessel in the San Francisco Bay and other Northern California waterways.
Kleess had lost his pilot license between Nov. 9, 2010, and Jan. 11, 2011, after going on medical leave, board records show. Records also indicate Kleess was involved in three previous accidents.
He was held responsible for two and ordered to undergo more training after a ship he was piloting damaged a dock in Stockton in 2009. It was the second time since 2007 that a large vessel controlled by a local pilot struck the Bay Bridge. A cargo ship operated by Capt. John Cota hit the bridge on a foggy morning in November 2007, spilling 53,000 gallons of oil into the bay. Cota 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.