'Crime spree by pirates' at Oakland Estuary raises safety concerns

Boat owners said crime and lawlessness at the Oakland Estuary is escalating into a crisis, saying the situation has worsened during the last two months.

Boat owners pointed their fingers at some people who live on abandoned vessels, and they want the city to take action.   

The Oakland Estuary is a playground for some and a home for people living on boats.  But some said it's now a breeding ground for what is being described as a crime spree by pirates.

"I probably know of 15 people who've had their small boats stolen," said Craig Jacobsen, owner of Outboard Motor Shop.  

He recounted chasing away thieves who climbed over a fence in his yard about three weeks ago. 

He said more recently, thieves stole parts from his customers' boats anchored at his dock in the middle of the night.

"We came in the morning and saw the boats were broken into and one of our docks is missing," said Jacobsen.    

Hours later, he said someone saw the stolen dock with all the items that were taken on a flotilla nearby, and he was able to recover what was taken.  

"This is an example of the illegal anchor-outs on the Oakland Estuary," said Brock de Lappe, who retired as harbormaster in 2022.

He said some people who live on these abandoned vessels are suspected of breaking into boats--stealing them or other items.    

"These boats are tens of thousands of dollars. They remove the outboard motor. They cut up the inflatable and let it sink in the estuary.  It's a tragedy," said de Lappe.  

He blamed the lack of enforcement for the lawlessness.  The Oakland Police Department only has one officer dedicated to enforcing the law on the estuary. 

The United States Coast Guard said it is working to help police.  

"Our plan is to increase our presence in the estuary. We plan to have randomized water patrols as well as air patrols," said U.S.C.G. Commander Danielle Shupe. 
"It's been difficult to get police to show up. The last one we had to deal with on our own. We finally did get police to show up, and they took somebody away, but it's been challenging to get them to respond to property crime," said Jacobsen. 

de Lappe said adding to the problem, Alameda County Sheriff's Office recently disbanded its marine patrol unit.

Boat owners are concerned that the situation could escalate into violence since some people have decided to arm themselves.

Amber Lee is a reporter with KTVU.  Email Amber at Amber.Lee@Fox.com or text/leave message at 510-599-3922. Follow her on Facebook @AmberKTVU,  Instagram @AmberKTVU or Twitter @AmberKTVU.