Pilot error caused tanker collision with Bay Bridge, state board says

Damage is seen to the tanker Overseas Reymar following a collision with a tower of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
(Associated Press)

SAN FRANCISCO -- The state Board of Pilot Commissioners has determined that pilot error led the 748-foot tanker Overseas Reymar to collide with a tower of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in January.

After a weeks-long investigation, the board on Thursday temporarily suspended the license of Capt. Guy Kleess, who was responsible for maneuvering the ship safely out of the bay. The commission will next file a formal accusation against Kleess, resulting in a trial and possible license revocation.


Though there was no spill, the Jan. 7 incident triggered a review of procedures for large vessels passing under the bridge in low visibility.

The accident came a little more than five years after the Cosco Busan, a container ship, struck the neighboring tower, spilling 53,000 gallons of oil into the bay.

An attorney for Kleess said the experienced captain met the standard for piloting and would have an opportunity to demonstrate that at trial.

However, an investigative report by the state board’s incident review committee pointed to a “chain of errors” by Kleess that were responsible for the incident that caused an estimated $1.4 million in damage to the tower’s fender and $220,000 in damage to the vessel.

The report examined whether Kleess had used “the ordinary care of an expert in his profession” and concluded he had not. It cited his failure to employ effective “bridge resource management” by not involving all members of the bridge watch in his maneuvers, not seeking help from the tanker’s master or third officer, and not using a second available radar device on the ship’s bridge. It also cited a lack or loss of situational awareness and “complacency” by Kleess.

“For our purposes here, complacency means a feeling of satisfaction with a situation, so that one stops trying to improve or change things,” the report said.

Investigators also cited speed: Kleess had ordered the ship to increase to full speed ahead just prior to the collision.

Furthermore, it noted, all pilots are required to have a portable pilot unit – essentially a laptop – with them. While Kleess had set his up, he “only glanced at it,” the report said, relying nearly exclusively on one radar.

Kleess had unloaded oil at a refinery in Martinez and was piloting an empty tanker on the morning of the accident. He weighed anchor at 10:54 a.m. and was planning to pass between the Charlie and Delta towers of the bridge in spotty fog.

However, he changed course after determining a radar beacon in the channel was not functioning and opted instead to pass between Delta and Echo towers, closest to Yerba Buena island. The rear of the double-hulled tanker struck the Echo tower.


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