"Mariners like me oppose giving them that much authority," Konrad said. "Unlike air traffic control, VTS doesn't know where every small boat on the bay is. They may say turn right not knowing there's a sailboat there."
Jeff Bornstein, a lawyer who represented Capt. John Cota, the pilot of the Cosco Busan, said the service asked "what are your intentions" as the ship steamed for the center of a tower. Bornstein said if the service had issued an explicit warning, Cota may have had time to change course and pass under the bridge safely.
Instead, Cota said he planned to maintain course without opposition from the service, realizing too late that he was misreading onboard instruments.
Still, Konrad, Bornstein and others warned that no conclusions can be made until the Coast Guard releases the recorded communications with the Overseas Reymar.
Bar pilots are required by state law to guide every large vessel in the San Francisco Bay and other Northern California waterways.
Kleess lost his pilot license between Nov. 9, 2010, and Jan. 11, 2011, after going on medical leave, state Board of Pilot Commissioners records show.
Charlie Goodyear, a spokesman for the bar pilots association, declined to divulge the details of the medical leave.
Records also indicated Kleess was involved in three previous accidents. He was held responsible for two and ordered to undergo more training after a ship he was piloting damaged a dock in Stockton in 2009, according to board records.
The medical fitness of pilots became an issue after Cota was found at fault for ramming the Cosco Busan into the Bay Bridge.
Federal investigators concluded that Cota withheld vital medical information from regulators, and that one of the factors in that crash was Cota's use of prescription medication.
Kleess' attorney characterized the previous accidents as "minor incidents" and said Kleess has a "good record" as a pilot.