The companies responsible for the 2007 San Francisco oil spill incident that damaged the environment and killed thousand of birds have agreed to pay a $44.4 million settlement.

On Nov. 7, 2007, a A Cosco Busan container ship owned by Regal Stone Limited based in Hong Kong struck the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and 53,000 gallons of fuel oil spilled, causing death of thousands of birds, damaging the bay’s herring spawn, sullying miles of coastal habitat and forcing closure of regional waters and beaches to recreation and fishing.

An investigation concluded that the pilot of the ship, John J. Cota, was affected by prescription drugs when the incident occurred and he was sentenced to a 10-month prison term in 2009 after pleading guilty to misdemeanor pollution. It was also determined that the U.S. Coast Guard failed to give effective alarm.

The operator, Fleet Management Ltd., was sentenced in 2010 after pleading guilty in the criminal case to negligently causing the discharge and obstructing justice. Fleet was ordered to pay $10 million in criminal penalties, including $2 million for local environmental projects, for its role negligently causing the Cosco Busan oil discharge and obstruction of justice charges for a subsequent cover-up in which it falsified ship records after the crash.

The state, the city and county of San Francisco and the city of Richmond also are parties to the settlement.

“The Northern District of California contains some of the most picturesque waterways in the country. Ship owners and operators cannot be allowed to take them for granted,” U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag of the Northern District of California said.

“This settlement and the criminal cases we brought in 2008 against Fleet Management and Mr. Cota should send a strong message that the federal, state and local governments here will take action against anyone causing environmental harm to the San Francisco Bay,” Haag said.