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Year after oil spill, crew still detained

For nearly a year, six Chinese crew members on a ship that crashed into the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge – creating the bay's worst oil spill in nearly 20 years – have been detained by federal authorities.

The sailors are being held as material witnesses in the crash of the Cosco Busan. The men, including four not accused of wrongdoing, are fighting to return home.

The 900-foot cargo ship sideswiped a bridge support, leaking more than 50,000 gallons of fuel that killed and injured thousands of birds.

Prosecutors want the six to testify in criminal cases against the harbor pilot and the ship's Hong Kong-based operator. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Although under arrest, the six are not in jail. They live rent-free, draw their salaries, and receive $1,200 each per month in witness fees.

Chinese officials in San Francisco hope the crew can return soon. But “we believe they are situated pretty well,” said Defa Tong of the Chinese consulate.

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