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Attorney: Pilot in Bay Bridge strike met standard

Terence Chea, Associated Press

File - In this Jan. 7, 2013 file photo provided by the Coast Guard, damage is seen to the tanker Overseas Reymar following a collision with tower six of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. A state panel is recommending that the pilot of the empty oil tanker that sideswiped the bridge have his license suspended or revoked. The recommendation is contained in a report released Thursday April 4, 2013 by the California Board of Pilot Commissioners Incident Review Committee.(AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard, Petty Officer 2nd Class Pamela J. Boehland, File)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- The attorney for the pilot of an empty oil tanker that side-swiped the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge says his client met the standards of his profession during difficult circumstances.

Rex Clack, pilot Guy Kleess' attorney, made the comments at a public hearing Thursday about a state report that concluded Kleess made a risky course change and committed misconduct during the January mishap.

The report by a committee of the California Board of Pilot Commissioners recommended that the board make a finding of pilot error and suspend or revoke Kleess's license.

Clack says the standard for a pilot is not perfection but reasonable care, and a pilot shouldn't be judged by 20/20 hindsight.

The board will now decide whether to accept the committee's recommendation and file a formal complaint against Kleess.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

The pilot of an empty oil tanker that side-swiped the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in January made a risky course change at the last minute and should have his license revoked or suspended, a report released on Thursday concluded.

The report by a committee of the California Board of Pilot Commissioners found pilot Guy Kleess became complacent and failed to effectively communicate with the crew of the 752-foot Overseas Reymar.

"Capt. Kleess lost awareness of what was happening around him and how information, events and his own actions impacted his objectives," the report said.

Kleess did not use "ordinary care of an expert in his profession" when maneuvering the ship and committed misconduct, the report concluded.

The committee recommended the board find for pilot error in the Jan. 7 bridge strike. The board was expected to take up the recommendation later in the day.

A message left at Kleess's home was not immediately returned.

The report states that Kleess changed course because of reduced visibility and the discovery that a radar beacon between two towers of the bridge was not working. The U.S. Coast Guard previously said the ship had been warned it was off course.

The tower's wooden fenders were damaged in the crash, but the bridge remained open. No oil was spilled and there were no injuries.

The U.S. Coast Guard is also investigating the incident.

Kleess' attorney, Rex Clack, has said the pilot was well-rested and had been off-duty for 39 hours before boarding the tanker at 10:30 a.m., about an hour before the crash.

Kleess and the crew tested negative for alcohol and drug use, according to the Coast Guard.

Bar pilots are required by state law to guide every large vessel in the San Francisco Bay and other Northern California waterways.

Kleess had lost his pilot license between Nov. 9, 2010, and Jan. 11, 2011, after going on medical leave, board records show.

Records also indicate Kleess was involved in three previous accidents. He was held responsible for two and ordered to undergo more training after a ship he was piloting damaged a dock in Stockton in 2009.

It was the second-time since 2007 a large vessel controlled by a local pilot struck the Bay Bridge.

A cargo ship operated by Capt. John Cota hit the bridge on a foggy morning in November 2007, spilling 53,000 gallons of oil into the bay.

Cota later pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors environmental charges and was sentenced to 10 months in prison. The companies that owned and operated the cargo ship paid a combined $60 million to settle lawsuits and criminal charges.