A recent rash of thefts at the house boats and sailboats at the 13 marinas in Alameda County is overwhelming the small number of maritime law enforcement personnel there, as thieves sometimes commandeer and steal entire boats.  

The current Oakland property crime surge is covering new ground, or rather, going past where the ground ends and the waters of the San Francisco Bay begin. The Chronicle reports today on a wave of “pirates” committing brash burglaries on boats docked at these marinas, who often approach on smaller crafts with their bolt cutters, sometimes stealing supplies, sometimes stealing the motors or others parts, and in some cases even commandeering the boats and repainting them to make it look as if they are their own.

“It’s almost the Wild West,” Alameda’s Marina Village Yacht Harbor managing investor Steve Meckfessel told the Chronicle. “It’s almost as if you were on a ship and there are pirates out there, and there’s no government, no one to protect you.”

There are actually some people to protect them, but not many, and those few law enforcement personnel are overwhelmed. The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office does have a Marine Patrol Unit, but it’s only a part-time patrol, and those officers have other duties as well.

The Oakland Police Department has only one maritime patrol officer, who acknowledged to the Chronicle a spike in thefts over the last six weeks. Encampments near the marina are growing, people have taken to living on makeshift boats, and according to the Chronicle, there was “even a former U.S. Navy vessel that appeared to house several people before it sank in December.”

The thieves aren’t just hitting the boats, but also maritime businesses along the marinas. Many of these business owners are forced to confront the encampments and docked stolen boats, where they sometimes find their own stolen items. But these situations could obviously turn violent, and vigilante justice is not an effective long-term solution.  

The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission recently held a hearing on the matter, though that commission has no law enforcement authority.

“I’ve heard the voices of fear and terror,” Commissioner Rebecca Eisen said at that hearing, per the Chronicle. “We are obviously not a law enforcement agency, but we understand what we’re hearing. We’re going to work with others to figure out if there’s anything we can do to be helpful.”

There have been some recent efforts to sweep the encampments near the marinas, and Alameda County has offered a $10,000 grant to remove derelict boats, and Oakland City Council voted earlier this year authorizing police to seize illegally docked boats. But those strategies aren’t getting results quickly enough for the boaters, who have a sinking feeling that the problem will only get worse.

Related: Crime in Oakland Soaring Across the Board, According to New Statistics [SFist]

Image: Cris I. via Yelp