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Longboat Police warn residents about boat-theft ring

Longboat Police Department has reason to believe that locals could be at risk of having their boats stolen from their lifts.

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  • | 8:00 a.m. April 4, 2018
  • Longboat Key
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Longboat Police are warning boat owners about a ring of thieves stealing higher-end offshore fishing boats along the west coast of Florida.

The criminals, police said, typically look for twin- and triple-engined open-fisherman style boats in the 30-foot range. 

Longboat Police Lt. Robert Bourque said the thieves have been active along the Gulf Coast in recent months, a sign they might strike unsuspecting owners locally. A 36-foot boat with three engines was stolen last month from a home lift in Clearwater Beach.  A similar craft was stolen in Bellair.

Bourque said it’s likely the criminal organization uses the boats it steals to illegally transport Cubans from their home country to Mexico — at least that’s what similar thieves have done in years past. Those Cubans, Bourque said, have been known to make their way to the United States. 

A law enforcement “working group” consisting of police departments from cities and counties along the west coast of Florida, including officials from the U.S. Coast Guard and Florida Department of Law Enforcement, have been tracking this group of criminals for at least a decade, Bourque said.

[Boat thefts on the rise]

“We know that they have been in our area recently, and we know they’re active in their home area,” Bourque said. “We want to make sure that everyone is securing their boats.”

Police believe these criminal had been in the area in 2015, when a 30-foot twin-engined boat was stolen from a lift on Longboat Key. The owner had been out of town when the boat went missing, according to a police report.

The lift that held the white 2014 Grady-White 305 Express had been lowered into the water. The keys for that boat were locked in a box on shore, but the boat was missing.

A similar boat had been stolen 2009, when police again noticed a rash of boat thefts in the region. That vessel was worth more than $250,000.

Offshore powerboats are the type thieves seek, police said.
Offshore powerboats are the type thieves seek, police said.

Most of the boats police suspect are susceptible to theft have Yamaha engines and are stored on a lift, Bourque said. 

The boat stolen in 2015 had two Yamaha F350 four stroke motors. The boat stolen in 2009 had a similar propulsion system.

These thieves often arrive at night on a smaller boat, lower the target vessel — identified before the heist — into the water, start it and take it Cancun, Mexico, Bourque said. Neighbors in the 2015 case did not notice anything suspicious.

Most stolen boats are never recovered, Bourque said. The thieves are responsible boat thefts that add up to a cost that’s “easily in the millions,” Bourque said.

“The theft activity has recently picked up and historically, when that happens, we’ve had thefts in our area,” Bourque said.

Police are asking residents with boats to take extra precaution in securing their property.

That could mean powering off the boat lift, buying or updating an alarm system for a boat or attaching some kind of GPS monitoring device to the vessel, said David Miller, a co-owner of Cannons Marina.

“Just use common sense,” Miller said. “The harder you can make if for them to get your boat — they’re going to go pick on another boat.”

Updated Wednesday, April 4, at 10:15 a.m.


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