On Monday, June 22 a Boat Theft and Security Information Meeting and Workshop was held in the Office of the Prime Minister at the Government Complex in Marsh Harbour. The meeting was organized by the Abaco Chamber of Commerce and Marine Operators of The Bahamas. It was hosted by North Abaco Member of Parliament Renardo Curry. The meeting was held to connect authorities (such as the Royal Bahamas Police Force and Royal Bahamas Defence Force) and other concerned stakeholders such as the Ministry of Tourism, Resorts, Insurance Agencies, Boat Rental Companies and other members of the Abaco Chamber of Commerce. All notes from the meeting were compiled and were presented to the Prime Minister and appropriate Cabinet Ministers.
The unanimous decision from the room that morning is that penalties need to be stiffer for boat thieves as opposed to the six months – seven years currently being handed down according to the Magistrate. The room agreed legislation needs to be passed to reflect the severity of the crime.
MP Curry greeted the roomful of people to begin the meeting. He also announced that several persons who had stolen a boat earlier that weekend were captured and being arraigned that very morning.
MP Curry had raised the dire issue of boat thefts in Abaco earlier in the month during a Parliament session in the House of Assembly. He called for measures to be taken and raised common concerns of the thefts impact on the local economy. He told the audience that visiting the Boat Show in Florida this year, the number one reason he heard from US residents as to why they would be hesitant to visit Abaco was the rampant boat thefts.
MP Curry said that the meeting that morning was “for solutions.”
MP Curry then introduced Abaco Police Superintendent Kevin Mortimer. Chief Mortimer gave an impassioned speech to the audience.
Chief Mortimer stated “On my second day [stationed] in Abaco there was a boat theft. On my third day there was a boat theft. And on my fourth day there was a boat theft. That’s when I knew we had a serious problem.”
He said that four months ago there was no police boat and no Defence Force boat. And even now the Police boat is not running on a consistent basis. He commended Abaco residents for the assistance in the absence of these necessary crime fighting tools.
Chief Mortimer expounded on the benefits of social media and instant messaging as a way to quickly disseminate information. He also advocated for cameras in marinas and chains in harbours. He said despite the costs associated with these deterrents, prevention is one of the keys to curbing the thefts. He also pleaded with resort managers to be careful who they hire and to seek police help for background checks.
Chief Mortimer said the Defence Force will now be in Abaco more frequently. He also said that with recent arrests and intelligence his team is circling in on the masterminds of the various rings. He also said he know for sure that the police boat was being repaired and should be fully operational within the next few weeks.
After Chief Mortimer had finished, the table was open to suggestions from the crowd. The number one, and unanimous, call was for legislation to be changed regarding sentencing of boat thieves. Currently boat thieves are fine $500 or sentenced anywhere from six months through seven years depending on the discretion of the Magistrate. Chief Mortimer said this was because the Magistrates may view boat theft as “white collar” since no one is physically injured. He agreed, however, that the harm done to the community and economy is more than enough to warrant that the Magistrates view it differently.
Many in attendance agreed to continue assisting authorities when the police do not have the means.
Other ideas and comments lobbied were:
-Boat tracking technology is now affordable and should be used.
-Stiffer Penalties and fines should be proportional to the value of the boat stolen.
-A Boat Theft Hotline.
-A dedicated boat theft and intelligence officer.
-Local guides helping the Defence Force navigate.
-A permanent station for the RBDF in Abaco.
-An US Embassy donation of a dedicated boat(s).
-Bait Boats, Stakeouts and Undercover Officers
The meetings of the minute were to be presented to Cabinet.