Tuesday, December 1, 2009

State Report Finds Bay Area Pilots' Board Still Missing Mark

The state of California's Bureau of State Audits issued a scathing report last week detailing failings and inadequacies of the state board that licenses and regulates pilots in the Bay Area.

The report found that the California Board of Pilot Commissioners for San Francisco, San Pablo and Suisun bays continues to certify pilots without adequate medical review, has failed to investigate accidents involving pilots in a timely manner, and has failed to provide proper training for pilots according to state guidelines.

The pilots, who guide arriving and departing ships into local waterways and earn about $400,000 a year, have been under intense scrutiny since the November 2007 Cosco Busan allision with the Oakland Bay Bridge and resultant oil spill that oiled stretches of San Francisco Bay. The main cause of the allision was later determined to be the fault of Captain John Cota, a state pilot who was at the helm of the Cosco Busan during the incident. Cota is now serving a 10-month stretch in federal prison over the incident. During the Cosco Busan investigation, Cota's medical fitness and the review of this fitness by the pilot board were called into question.

Following the Cosco Busan incident, state lawmakers passed stringent regulations regarding, among other things, the pilot board's medical review process.
Last week's 68-page report detailed nine areas of concern found by the state auditor, including:

  • The board paid for business-class airfare for pilots attending training in France, which may constitute a misuse of public funds.
  • The board lacked a procedure, required in state law, for access to confidential information, and it released information to the public that included a pilot's home address and Social Security number.
  • The board did not consistently adhere to state law when licensing pilots. In one case, it licensed a pilot 28 days before he received a required physical examination; he piloted vessels 18 times during this period.
  • The board renewed some pilots' licenses even though the pilots had received physical examinations from physicians the board had not appointed and, in one case, renewed a license for a pilot who had not had a physical examination that year.
  • Of the 24 investigations the state reviewed, 17 went beyond the 90-day statutory deadline for completion.
  • The board did not investigate reports of suspected safety standard violations of pilot boarding equipment, as required by law.
  • The board failed to ensure that all pilots completed required training within specified time frames.
  • The board did not ensure that some of its members and investigators filed required statements of economic interests.
  • The board did not approve several changes to the rates pilots charge for their services, as required by law.

You can view the entire Bureau of State Audits' report at www.bsa.ca.gov.

FOR THE RECORD: In the Tuesday, Dec. 1, PMM Online, a headline regarding a state of California report critical of the state board that governs the Bay Area bar pilots incorrectly described the contents of the article.

The headline should have read "State Report Finds Bay Area Pilots' Board Still Missing Mark."

As stated in the article, the Bureau of State Audits report criticized certain actions and inactions by the California Board of Pilot Commissioners for San Francisco, San Pablo and Suisun Bays. The report did not investigate or find fault with the individual licensed pilots regulated by the pilots' board. We regret if the incorrect headline implied otherwise.