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A barge filled with equipment is tethered to a tower of the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge just west of Treasure Island in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013. Repair to the tower began Tuesday after the tanker ship Overseas Reymar hit the bridge on Jan. 7. (Jane Tyska/Staff)

State regulators on Monday handed down a five-month license suspension without pay and mandated extra training for the pilot of a 748-foot-long oil tanker that struck the Bay Bridge in heavy fog in January.

Guy Kleess, of San Francisco, a former Exxon oil tanker captain who has sailed professionally for 36 years, was heading north on the morning of Jan. 7 when the ship he was piloting, the Overseas Reymar, sideswiped a tower of the Bay Bridge's western span near Yerba Buena Island.

The accident, which raised new concerns about oil tanker safety on San Francisco Bay, caused about $1.4 million in damage to the bridge but did not result in an oil spill. The ship sustained $220,000 in damage.

In addition to the suspension of Kleess' pilot's license, which was timed to start April 4, the State Board of Pilot Commissioners also placed Kleess under two years' probation, required that he take 30 trips as an observer on board with other pilots sailing large ships under the Bay Bridge, and required him to complete remedial training in radar navigation, reduced visibility sailing and other techniques.

The decision was part of a settlement agreement between the board, which regulates shipping pilots in California, and Kleess.

"The order is fashioned to protect the public interest and the waters of San Francisco Bay," said Allen Garfinkle, executive director of the board. "We hope that by providing remedial training to the pilot he will become a more competent mariner."

Kleess' attorney, Rex Clack, of San Francisco, said Kleess looks forward to continuing his career on the water.

"Today's agreement," said Clack, "will enable Capt. Kleess to return to duty upon meeting the terms of the agreement."

In April, the board ruled that Kleess committed "misconduct" by making a risky last-minute change in course, and by failing to effectively communicate with other members of the ship's crew as he "lost awareness of what was happening around him."

The accident was the second time a large ship has collided with the Bay Bridge in the past five years. In 2007, the cargo ship Cosco Busan hit a bridge tower, spilling 53,000 gallons of bunker fuel into San Francisco Bay, oiling 69 miles of shoreline and killing more than 6,000 birds.

Unlike the Cosco Busan, the Overseas Reymar was empty, having unloaded millions of gallons of crude oil at the Shell refinery in Martinez the night before. Had the ship been full of oil, it could have created an ecological disaster.

Shipping pilots such as Kleess are local experts who board large ships that are sailing in and out of San Francisco Bay. Their job is to stand next to captains and help them navigate tricky conditions such as fast-changing currents, weather and shipping channels.

Concerned about the two collisions with the Bay Bridge, the Coast Guard and the Harbor Safety Committee of the San Francisco Bay in February passed new rules that prohibit oil tankers, cargo ships and other large vessels from sailing northbound under the Bay Bridge when there is less than half a mile of visibility due to fog.

On Monday, the head of a leading bay conservation group said she is mostly satisfied with the settlement, but thinks part of it is backward.

"Instead of having him ride along with other pilots, I would like to see somebody riding along with him and evaluating him," said Deb Self, executive director of San Francisco Baykeeper.

"We want to be able to catch problems in pilot judgment before accidents happen," she said. "Because accidents with ships of this size present a tremendous risk of oil spills on the bay, which are a major threat to the bay, its wildlife and our economy."

On the morning of the accident, Kleess, 62, had planned to sail between the Bay Bridge's "C" and "D" towers. But he suddenly changed course and veered east, like a truck driver switching lanes at the last minute while heading into a toll plaza. At 11:18 a.m., the huge vessel collided with the "E" tower.

Afterward, a radar beacon on the Bay Bridge that shows sailors the midpoint between towers "C" and "D" was discovered not to be working. Complicating matters, the ship went under the Bay Bridge as currents quickly accelerated because of a 3-knot ebb tide.

With the vessel in trouble, and trying to make a tight left turn between the two towers, Kleess only used one of the radar systems on the ship to see where the bridge was, and its images were fuzzy, investigators found. He did not use a more precise radar system on board, or a laptop with electronic charts that he carried. Nor did he talk with the captain of the ship, Jeffrey Memarion, during critical moments, the report found.

Paul Rogers covers resources and environmental issues. Contact him at 408-920-5045. Follow him at Twitter.com/PaulRogersSJMN.