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Lawyer: Too early to pin tanker accident on pilot

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 9, 2013 at 7:23 pm •  Published: January 9, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Investigators were gathering evidence Wednesday to determine what caused an empty oil tanker to clip a tower support of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge while a lawyer for the ship's pilot called any speculation that his client was at fault "highly premature."

The 752-foot Overseas Reymar scraped a 30-to-40-foot section of a protective fender from the tower at about 11:20 a.m. Monday while pilot Guy Kleess was in charge of taking the tanker out beyond the Golden Gate Bridge.

The U.S. Coast Guard said in a statement that the ship had been warned it was off course. But the Coast Guard refused to disclose what time the warning was given or release a recording of the conversation between the ship and the Vessel Traffic Service, which monitors the movement of all large vessels on the San Francisco Bay.

Coast Guard spokesman Dan Dewell said investigators will examine the recorded conversation between the 752-foot Overseas Reymar and a dispatcher with the service, along with a host of other factors.

No further details about the warning will be released until the investigation is complete, he said.

The pilot's lawyer, Rex Clack, said investigators are still gathering facts about the accident and have not speculated about a cause. He said Kleess is cooperating.

"None of the government investigators has pointed fingers at any specific source as a cause," Clack said in a statement Wednesday. "And there are many potential causes for investigators to study, such as mechanical failure aboard the Overseas Reymar, faulty navigational devices, unpredictable fog conditions, the actions of the ship's bridge crew, water currents and tides, and other possible sources."

In a phone interview, Clack declined to discuss any details, including the nature of the conversation between the Vessel Traffic Service and the tanker.

Mariners and others say the Vessel Traffic Service is a form of air traffic control with one crucial distinction: Its communications are advisory rather than mandatory like air traffic control.

So "warnings" from the service are often phrased as questions rather than direct statements of danger.

"They are not there to order captains around," said Capt. John Konrad, a veteran operator of large ships who now operates the respected mariners website "They'll ask a lot of questions."

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