Boating boom sets off pounds 60m crime wave

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The Independent Online
Nautical "jumble sales" are being used to launder stolen boats and marine equipment worth up to pounds 60m a year. A new report on the problem also suggests that boat crime is set to rise, helped largely by the lack of regulations, which makes selling stolen goods easy.

About 5 million people are involved in boating, one of the biggest outdoor leisure activities, and that is expected to rise by a million in the next five years.

Among the crimes being committed are the theft of and from vessels, fraudulent selling of craft, false insurance claims, scuttling and arson. Marine theft has increased by about 50 per cent since 1990.

Nicholas Kasic, of the Maritime Research Centre at Southampton Institute, reports in his study, Small Boat Crime: The Whole Story, that a new problem is the trend in second-hand sales. He said: "The growth of the boat jumble has caused a stir amongst many researching this area. Many feel that all these goods cannot be genuine second-hand items.

"Marinas around the country prior to a boat jumble increase security of the site due to increases in thefts at these times. The police often mount surveillance operations attempting to check for stolen property, however success has often been limited. Police and loss adjusters feel that the current level of criminal activity is enormous."

Estimates of the cost of the theft range from pounds 20m to pounds 60m, but there are no conclusive figures.

Thieves most often steal outboard motors, electronic equipment such as navigators, small vessels that fit on a trailer and more recently jet- skis.

But despite the increasing problem, police marine units have dwindled, largely to save money. In the past year such units have been closed down by the Thames Valley and Suffolk forces.

Mr Kasic argued in his report that the problem has been made worse by the lack of laws about the ownership of marine equipment. He noted: "The boating community exists with a lack of regulation and controls that allows crime to develop. Within the UK it is not a legal requirement for a boat owner to register their boat with any government agency. This means a stolen boat does not even need to have a false identity created. The boat just needs relocating to another part of the world."

Britain, unlike Germany, Spain and France, has only a voluntary system of registration. The report suggested one possible solution would be a form of electronic tagging for vessels.

Hampshire police have introduced a number of new measures to tackle boat crime, which they estimate cost pounds 1,250,000 in the past year. In the same period officers recovered about pounds 250,000 of goods and made 37 arrests.

The force area, which has 220 miles of coastline that include popular boating centres at Southampton and on the Isle of Wight, is to take part in a new registration scheme in which new boats are given an identification number. It also has trained special police constables to assist the three marine units.

The boat crime study concluded that a national strategy is needed and that boat owners needed to provide better security for their property.