Boat thefts increase in southwest Florida

Boat and marine engine thefts are on the rise in southwest Florida and recovery of the stolen vessels and motors has proved difficult.

The News-Press reported that the Lee County Sheriff’s Office has seen 91 reports of motor theft since January 2012. More than half of them have been filed this year. The thefts amount to millions of dollars in losses and because owners aren’t required to register boat motors in Florida, the stolen engines can be tough to track down.

Fort Myers-based Nor-Tech Hi-Performance Boats had a customer’s $400,000 boat stolen one night in January. The boat was recovered in Miami, but no arrests have been made.

Thieves recently broke into a warehouse and stole a truck and a $100,000 boat from Fort Myers resident Vieko Kreis. “It’s probably in Cuba or Mexico now,” Kreis told the News-Press.

Capt. Guy Carpenter of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission says FWC officers are trained to look for signs that a boat or engine might be stolen, including “ghost numbers,” altered hull identification numbers and serial numbers.

“These efforts can be successful. However, making recoveries is still difficult,” Carpenter said. “Stolen boats are easily taken to Florida’s neighboring Caribbean islands, Bahamas and Mexico, and resold or used for illegal activities.”

Sgt. Mark Williamson of the Collier County Sheriff’s Office said there has been an uptick in outboard motor thefts. Most boat owners don’t document serial numbers, he said, so it can be difficult to return a recovered motor to its owner.

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice charged nine Naples residents in a boat-theft ring that operated in Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties. The thefts occurred over a three-year period and included luxury boats worth at least $1.5 million. The boats were taken to Mexico to be used in a human-smuggling operation.

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