The pilot of a ship that spilt 58,000 gallons of oil into San Francisco Bay killing some 2000 birds in November 2007 has been charged with criminal negligence.

John Cota, who was also charged with breaking environmental laws, faces 18 months in jail and up to $100,000 in fines if convicted.

“While piloting the ship in heavy fog, (Mr Cota) failed to pilot a collision-free course and failed to adequately review the proposed course with the captain and crew on official navigational charts,” said the Justice Department in a statement.

Mr Cota has disputed some of the charges, saying his radar had become “distorted” and “unreliable” as he tried to navigate the bay, causing him to switch to the ship’s electronic charting system. “Captain Cota is a qualified, experienced pilot, who has worked on the San Francisco Bay for almost 27 years,” said Jeff Bornstein, Captain Cota’s lawyer.

“We strongly believe that once all the evidence is heard, a jury will find in Captain Cota’s favour.”

I hope the legal action doesn’t go on as long as that of the Exxon Valdez.