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The Cosco Busan heads out of San Francisco Bay after it was cleared to do so on Thursday.
OAKLAND -

Six weeks after a collision with the Bay Bridge and a monumental oil spill, the ill-fated container ship Cosco Busan sailed uneventfully Thursday out of San Francisco Bay.

The 900-foot ship got underway with temporary steel plates and bracing on the hole made in its hull when it scraped a support tower for the Bay Bridge. The ship, which is headed for Korea, will need permanent repairs, said Coast Guard spokesman Dan Dewell.

The Cosco Busan spilled 58,000 gallons into the Bay on Nov. 7 after sideswiping the Bay Bridge on a foggy morning. The spill fouled 40 miles of shoreline and killed more than 2,000 birds, caused a shake-up in Coast Guard incident commanders and brought complaints from Congress.

State officials have filed misconduct charges against the pilot, John Cota, who advised the ship captain, and the U.S. Department of Justice has filed a civil suit against the ship's owner and its insurance company. Cota has until today to deposit his license, pending resolution of charges, Dewell said.

The Coast Guard estimates the cleanup cost already has exceeded $55 million and is almost certain to surpass the $61 million federal insurance liability limit. That cap, however, could be lifted if there is a determination of gross negligence.

The federal government and the ship owner have resolved a legal standoff that had kept the vessel here for more than six weeks.


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The government asked for and received $79.5 million, the full value of the ship, the maritime equivalent of a release bond, said Andrew Ames, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice.

The money serves as the kind of security deposit the government sought to cover a possible judgment in its civil case against the ship owner.

Federal rules say the maximum amount that can be demanded for security in such cases is the value of the ship, Ames said. The deposit eliminated the government's threat to ``arrest,'' or seize, the vessel, which could have cost taxpayers a significant amount of money, Ames said.

The threat was part of a lawsuit filed Nov. 30 by the federal government against the ship's owner, Regal Stone, Ltd., Regal Stone's insurance company, and Cota.

Also Thursday, the Coast Guard said 1,083 oil-soaked birds were captured during the cleanup. So far, 400 birds have been released back into the wild, their feathers washed and their health restored. But 648 birds died during treatment. The Coast Guard counted 1,818 dead birds, not all of them oil-soaked.

Wire Services contributed to this report.