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Ghost Ships:Boat Thefts Blamed on Smugglers

The thieves struck in the middle of the night.

They cut the steel cables holding the brand-new Plan B, a 36-foot fishing boat, on its elevated mooring behind a Key Largo home, dropped it into the water and roared off. They didn’t go far. The $200,000 boat ran aground in the nearby John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, where a fisherman found it the next morning. Add Plan B to a spike in boat thefts, perhaps linked to Cuban migrant smuggling. A voyage of 30 migrants on a boat like Plan B could net smugglers $300,000.boats.jpg

The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission estimated that boat thefts in Miami-Dade alone were up more than 20 percent from last year. Not even Rodney Barreto, the chairman of the conservation commission, has been immune to the boat-snatching trend. He owns Plan B. ”Authorities told me they were seeing these thefts with increasing frequency, that the spike was driven by human-smuggling,” Barreto said.

Evidence found on the stranded boat included two drums with fuel, a tarp and a duffel bag with water and potato chips. The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office recently alerted boat owners to rising thefts. ”Detectives are warning upper Keys residents about boat thefts,” said a Monroe County Sheriff’s Office statement issued Sept. 13, the day Plan B was stolen. “Seven boats have been stolen from behind upper Keys residences over the past two months. . . . Detectives believe the boats are being used for migrant smuggling.”

A report prepared in July by a conservation commission investigator said boat thieves are using sophisticated methods, including the deployment of spotters along Interstate 95 to watch for vessels under tow “that may be targeted for theft. ”Smugglers seem to prefer go-fast boats or fishing vessels in the 25- to 40-foot range.


The report said that more than 235 vessels had been stolen in Miami-Dade alone between Jan. 1 and June 28, or more than a 20 percent increase over the same period in 2006. It added that at least 784 marine-related thefts, including 492 boats, were reported in Florida between April and June — 22 percent more than during the same period last year.

The Miami-Dade Police Department said it did not have boat theft figures immediately available. Broward Sheriff’s Office spokesman Jim Leljedal said that in his county boat thefts had shown “no significant uptick.”Boat thefts reflect an increase in migrant smuggling, partly blamed for a spike in undocumented Cuban migrants.

By Sept. 19, the Coast Guard had stopped in the Florida Straits at least 2,587 Cuban migrants, only 365 fewer than the 2,952 intercepted in 2005 — the largest number of interdictions in one year since the rafter exodus in 1994, when 37,191 Cubans were picked up. While many have been stopped at sea, many more have made it ashore.

As of early September, Border Patrol figures showed that at least 3,625 Cuban migrants had arrived in South Florida — or 549 more than in all of fiscal year 2006.

Many more Cuban migrants are streaming through the Mexican border after being ferried across the Yucatán Channel to Cancún and Isla Mujeres.

Customs and Border Protection figures showed that from Oct. 1 to Wednesday, at least 11,319 Cubans had shown up along the Mexican border — or 2,680 more than during the 2006 fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.


Although many Cubans have arrived in makeshift vessels, many more have been transported on boats like Plan B. More boats are needed to satisfy not only more migrants but also more smuggling routes or to provide support including en-route refueling or to act as decoys.

Andrew Corsini, assistant special agent in charge for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Miami, told The Miami Herald recently that South Florida-based migrant smuggling rings use several boats for every mission.

”This is not a mom-and-pop operation,” said Corsini. `These are sophisticated groups trying to bring people into this country and they’re paid well.”

Source: MH 


One Response

  1. […] U.S. – Mexico border after being ferried across the Yucatán Channel to Cancún and Isla Mujeres https://miamipress.wordpress.com/2007/09/27/ghost-shipsboat-thefts-blamed-on-smugglers/. Anthony Grondin, President of Boat-Track Inc., said “With the rise of boat thefts, using our […]

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