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Tanker strikes San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge

SAN FRANCISCO Coast Guard investigators on Tuesday plan to interview the pilot of an empty tanker that struck a tower in the middle of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge while navigating beneath the hulking span.

The 752-foot Overseas Reymar rammed the tower on Monday afternoon as it headed out to sea, according to the Coast Guard and state transportation officials.

The unidentified pilot will also report to the state Board of Pilot Commissioners, which will conduct its own investigation of the accident. That board regulates bar pilots.

The pilot has been a San Francisco bar pilot since 2005, said Charlie Goodyear, a spokesman for the San Francisco Bar Pilots Association. The association did not release his name.

OSG Ship Management Inc., which is the parent company that owns the Marshall Islands-registered ship, said the vessel hit an underwater portion of the massive bridge structure, CBS Station KIPX reports.

The mishap damaged about 30 to 40 feet of fender of steel and wooden timbers built onto the span to absorb the brunt of a ship's collision, said California Department of Transportation spokesman Bart Ney.

A worker inspects damage to the bottom of a tower on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in San Francisco, Monday, Jan. 7, 2013. The empty oil tanker ship Overseas Reymar struck the Bridge on Monday, but there were no reports of leaking oil. The bridge remained open to traffic. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

It didn't affect traffic on the busy bridge, which is the main artery between San Francisco and Oakland, Ney said.

Investigators had not yet determined the cause of the crash.

"There's always the human factor," Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Shawn Lansing said. "That is again what we'll look into and see whether, in fact, it was a human error or something else and take that into consideration in the development of future regulation."

Visibility at the time was about a quarter-mile, but officials didn't say if that was a factor.

There was no timetable for completing the investigation, Lansing said. The crew and captain of the ship will undergo drug and alcohol testing, per federal regulations. Inspectors also will examine the hull of the ship above and below water, Lansing said.

The incident brought back memories of a major crash in 2007 that spilled 53,000 gallons of oil into the bay. Oil leaking from the Cosco Busan contaminated 26 miles of shoreline, killed more than 2,500 birds and delayed the start of the crab-fishing season.

The Overseas Reymar was not carrying oil as cargo on Monday, only fuel to power its engines, said Goodyear.

Coast Guard authorities said no oil or hazardous materials were reported to have leaked into the water. Still, officials spread 4,000 feet of absorbent material on the water to be safe.

State law requires a bar pilot to guide every large vessel - be it a luxury liner, a billionaire's yacht, aircraft carrier or cargo ship - in, out and around the San Francisco Bay.

The pilots' role came under intense scrutiny in the crash of the Cosco Busan. That ship's pilot, Capt. John Cota, served a 10-month prison sentence after pleading guilty to two misdemeanor charges. The companies responsible for the Cosco Busan paid close to $60 million for the cleanup and in criminal fines.