SAN FRANCISCO The crew of the cargo ship that hit the Bay Bridge and spilled 58,000 gallons of oil into San Francisco Bay is refusing to speak with federal investigators, officials said Wednesday.
The Chinese crew members have hired lawyers and are now declining to be questioned by the National Transportation Safety Board, NTSB member Debbie Hersman said.
Some of the crew members already have spoken with the Coast Guard, but new criminal and civil investigations have apparently prompted the crew to refuse interviews, Hersman said.
The Coast Guard also said Wednesday that some crew members were not immediately drug tested following the incident. They were eventually tested, but outside the legal time limits. Those test results are still pending.
U.S.-based Capt. John Cota, who was piloting the ship, was tested properly for drugs and alcohol, and the results were negative, officials said.
The 58,000-gallon spill occurred when a cargo ship suffered a gash in its hull after colliding with the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in heavy fog last week in an incident Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called an "unbelievable human failure." The governor promised to investigate the cause of the spill and the Coast Guard's response.
The pilot of the ship said he immediately reported the presence of oil in the water, but cleanup crews didn't arrive on the scene for nearly 90 minutes. A Coast Guard log places a skimming vessel at the scene in 80 minutes.
Coast Guard officials defended their response as "by the book," but concede mistakes in their communication with the public. Initial reports had the spill at just 140 gallons; the Coast Guard waited hours after learning it was much larger before notifying local officials.
Federal prosecutors are also conducting a criminal probe.
The Coast Guard will review its own response, a process that will include the city of San Francisco, the state of California and others. The aim is to evaluate the Coast Guard's planning and response.
Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen says such reviews normally wait until after cleanup operations. But because of the severity in this case, he is putting it under way immediately.
Meanwhile, many out-of-town fishermen were packing up and heading home after Schwarzenegger suspended all commercial and sport fishing in areas affected by last week's San Francisco Bay oil spill.
The decision likely will make the biggest dent in the highly anticipated commercial season for Dungeness crab, which was scheduled to start Thursday but has now been postponed for at least 2 1/2 weeks amid health concerns.
"It will set us back quite a bit," said Art Romine, 38, a crabber who planned to return home to Newport, Ore., after hearing about the suspension Tuesday. "We can't be bringing in crabs that are possibly toxic. That wouldn't be good for the market at all."
Some local fishermen were hired by the Port of San Francisco to help with the oil cleanup effort. More than 20 boats are being paid $3,000 a day a fraction of what some vessels can make during the first frenzied days of the crab season.
Officials said it's the first fishing ban stemming from an oil spill in California. There's no evidence that seafood has been impacted by the spill, but officials wanted to prioritize the public's safety, said Steve Edinger, assistant chief of the Department of Fish and Game.
Schwarzenegger also ordered the state Department of Public Health to determine whether people can become sick if they eat seafood caught in areas impacted by the spill.
The suspension will be an economic hardship for many fishermen, especially crabbers from Oregon, Washington and California's distant North Coast. The Bay Area crab fishery attracts out-of-town fishermen because it opens two weeks earlier than larger fisheries farther north.
"We're going to go home broke," said Jason Morford, 38, of Newport, Ore. "We're going to be in the hole."