After 15 months of battling clannish Louisiana ship pilots, the National Transportation Safety Board yesterday issued sweeping recommendations that could alter the way the country's 1,100 state-licensed pilots operate.

The board urged the Coast Guard to ask Congress for federal jurisdiction over state-licensed ship pilots who guide commercial vessels to and from ports in 22 coastal states.

The Coast Guard now can levy civil fines and issue recommendations when there is a marine accident. But it has no authority over state-issued pilot licenses; previous Coast Guard efforts to gain the jurisdiction have failed.

NTSB member John Lauber said he "would hope this would revive the {Coast Guard's} effort. The pilots are accountable to no one."

The NTSB recommendations stem from an investigation it conducted of an October 1986 collision between a towboat and a cargo ship on the Mississippi. The ship pilot had been involved in a five previous accidents in five years, but had never been disciplined.

The accident occurred 12 miles upriver from New Orleans as the ship, the Petersfield, was attempting to pass the towboat, the Bayou Boeuf, which was pushing a string of barges. No one was injured but the force of the collision sank one of the eight double barges and capsized two others. Four more broke loose and floated down the river. The board yesterday blamed pilot Robert M. (Mickey) Karr for the accident.

Karr was not fined by the Coast Guard after the accident and NTSB member Joseph Nall said he questioned what the effect would be if the Coast Guard were given enhanced authority over pilots.

"If the Coast Guard hasn't seen fit to go after this pilot in a civil penalty, what would he have to do for them to go after his license?" Nall asked.

Karr is a member of the New Orleans-Baton Rouge Pilots Association, known as NOBRA, one of three pilot associations on the lower Mississippi that control 95 percent of the ship traffic between the Gulf of Mexico and Baton Rouge. When they enter state waterways, foreign-flagged ships are required to take on a state pilot who guides the ship to and from port.

In Louisiana, the three pilot associations are regulated by separate state commissions, composed of three pilots from within each association. They are appointed by the governor.

The NTSB found that over a 30-year period only one NOBRA pilot has been suspended and one placed on probation. The board also found that the files on two of Karr's previous accidents were incomplete. Investigators said one of the files did not even contain a statement from Karr or from any witnesses to the accident.

Lauber said that the pilot system in Louisiana has evolved to the point where "we have no records or effective accident investigation. We have no accountability in this system."

In recommendations to Louisiana, the NTSB urged that the New Orleans-Baton Rouge Pilot Commission be expanded to include a representative from a steamship company, a shipper, and a member of the public. The NTSB also recommended that the NOBRA commission develop a drug and alcohol testing policy, maintain career-long records of pilot accidents and incidents, file annual accident reports with the state and publish clear rules regarding its operation.

The board also urged the state to apply the recommendations to the other two lower Mississippi pilot associations.

Capt. Jacques B. Michell, president of the Associated Branch Pilots, and Capt. Mark Delesdernier, president of the Crescent River Port Pilot Association, said applying the recommendations to their associations would be unfair because neither was involved in the accident and neither has had a pilot who has had so many accidents.

"They {NTSB} didn't understand the accident and they never have," said Capt. Joe Clayton, NOBRA's president.

Clayton said the recommendation to open the pilot commission to include steamship companies and shippers would allow the industry unfair economic leverage over the pilots. He said mixed commissions in Maryland, Florida and Washington state have not produced better safety records.