By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
BOAT thieves have struck again in Abaco, stealing two vessels in one night from boat lifts at a marina and a private home in Marsh Harbour. The culprits had also attempted to steal a third.
According to The Tribune’s sources, both of the stolen boats were later found - one adrift and the other half-sunk with the engines missing.
It appears that the police, with limited resources and manpower, are unable to get a handle on the thefts, leaving boat owners defenceless and at the mercy of the thieves. On Friday, Inspector Terecita Pinder reported that police had not received any boat theft reports in the last two days.
Because the Abaco economy depends heavily on tourism, it is feared that the continuing rash of thefts will hurt the industry, scaring visiting boat owners who go there to vacation or spend time at their second homes.
Linda Knowles, co-owner with husband, Craig, of Lighthouse Marina in Hope Town, said the situation has got “completely out of hand”. “It has escalated and it is an absolute concern with our tourist industry out here,” she told The Tribune on Friday.
Lighthouse Marina is the largest marina in Abaco. Mrs Knowles said the thefts are discouraging and disheartening to everyone, and that it needs more attention from the police and the island’s representatives. “Something has got to be done to get this problem addressed before we start losing tourists,” she warned.
Mrs Knowles believes that a special Police Task Force should be assigned to conduct investigations into the thefts. “We need more police resources down here. The police need to get together with some people, the marinas and the resorts to try and see if we can come up with a strategic plan, without putting anyone in harm’s way. The civilians can’t take this matter into their own hands.”
Resident Colin Albury, chief fire officer for the Royal Bahamas Police Force and EMS director for North Abaco and Treasure Cay, said homeowners are frustrated by the thefts. “We had a lot of boats stolen out of Treasure Cay; our homeowners are at wits’ end. They are fleeing our shores like wildfire. They are so fed up with the situation and afraid for their safety as well,” he said.
Mr Albury said that culprits are not being pursued because there are no patrol boats in place to go after them. “There is nothing in place; when these boats are stolen the police don’t have chase boats to go after them,” he stressed.
Mr Albury said the perpetrators are not even fazed when caught in the act by homeowners. “A good friend of mine heard them cutting the cable on the boat lift and heard the boat dropped in the water and they shone their flashlight on them and that didn’t even deter them, they kept going and stole the boat,” he recalled.
“Something has to be done - there is no question. It is an epidemic and if we don’t do something and get some arrests and change the laws on the books very soon, we are going to have zero tourism here,” he said.
Steven Albury, owner of Abaco Outboard Engines Ltd in Marsh Harbour, estimates that there have been about 16 or 17 boats missing in the last six weeks in Abaco. Although nearly all have been recovered, he said all of the engines were missing.
In order to begin to tackle the problem, he believes that there must be at least five police patrol boats stationed in Abaco to patrol the island and its many cays. “The police lack resources,” he said. According to Mr Albury, many of the thefts occur during March to the second week in August when boaters come to the island. The boating season slows down during the third week in August through November, he said.
“The police have one boat, and most of the time it is not in the water. And if it is, they are patrolling in the day. Well, the thefts do not happen in the day.” He also noted that there is only one way in and out of Marsh Harbour and Hope Town. Mr Albury encouraged people to be proactive and reported that Scotland Cay has not had any thefts in a long time since installing night laser beams.
Tourism “our life blood”
The Abaco businessman said he has seen comments posted on social media by people saying they do not want to come to Abaco any more. He also noted that Abaco has been blacklisted by insurance companies.
“We are on the blacklist of insurance companies and when boaters leave the US, unless they are very wealthy, the insurance is cancelled once they pass Bimini, and it has caused a lot of people from coming,” he said. “Abaco relies on foreign tourism - that’s all it has; tourism and foreign homeowners are our life blood. If we don’t have that, we are nothing. Everyone is so concerned over the high prevalence of thefts,” he said.
Mr Albury claims that nothing is being done about the incidents in terms of police investigations. And, even if the culprits are caught, he said, they are let out on bail and continue stealing boats.
“The guys doing the thefts have been seen time again on video and they do nothing to them because the penalty is $300 or $600 fine. There is no stiff penalty and the legislation in place does not address the problem,” he said.