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U.S. Coast Guard deploys boats to combat ‘pirates’ taking over Oakland Estuary, officials say

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) — Pirates take over marinas in the Oakland estuary. Yes, pirates. And local and federal authorities say the situation is getting so serious that the U.S. Coast Guard is deploying help to patrol the area.

“Boat owners attacked by pirates,” said Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao. “There’s no excuse for that.”

From shipwrecks to sunken sailboats to pirate attacks, the coastline around the Oakland Estuary is experiencing a new level of violence that is leaving the region torn and trashed. The irony is that this is happening right in front of one of the agencies charged with dealing with it.

“I heard it got to almost fist fights on the docks,” said former harbor master Brock de Lappe.

Abandoned ships are covered in graffiti, like a battlefield scene in an action movie.

RELATED: Oakland boat owners watch out for ‘pirates’ as crime spreads to water

“We are talking about piracy,” de Lappe said. “People who live on board marinas are terrified by these elements who arrive at night in small boats.”

De Lappe served as harbor captain in Alameda and Oakland for 10 years. But he’s never seen things get this bad.

“You can see one here that recently sank,” he said, pointing to the bow of the boat sticking out of the water. “As you can see here on the pier, the public fishing pier at Union Point Park. There are at least two ships sunk off this pier.”

Oakland police aren’t providing any specific data to the I-Team, but De Lappe says that in recent months, pirates have attacked ships at five different locations along the canal — including Jack London Square, the Jack London Square aquatic center, the estuary. Canal west of Bayside Hotel, Union Point Park West, Union Point Park East.

From boats to masts, the problem lies right in front of the U.S. Coast Guard Island. The federal agency shares responsibility with local authorities for monitoring the waterfront. The abandoned boat problem has existed for years, but the new level of crime is prompting the commander of U.S. Coast Guard Sector San Francisco to take action.

“Our primary effort on the part of the Coast Guard is to ensure that there is a deterrent,” said Coast Guard Cpt. Taylor Lam.

MORE: Oakland leaders announce $2.5 million in funding to improve 911 response times

Cpt. Lam says they deploy different small multi-mission boats to conduct regular patrols in the Oakland Estuary and other waterways in the region.

“Our plan is to increase the level of Coast Guard law enforcement presence in the estuary at random times throughout the day,” said Cpt. Lam said.

Partly because police say the thefts happen randomly – morning, noon and evening.

“They take things that can easily be fenced in, outboard motors, radios,” De Lappe said. “In the case of the boat stolen from the Embarcadero Cove Marina, they found guns. It’s not a good situation.”

Mayor Thao says crime in the estuary only recently came onto her radar.

MORE: ‘We are hurting’: Oakland community seeks solutions to rising crime at safety meeting

“Justice must be done,” Thao said. “That means policing needs to be done differently, investigations need to be done differently, as does how resources are deployed.”

In March, the city of Oakland unanimously passed a nuisance vessel ordinance.

“This gives OPD and the Marine Patrol Unit the tools they need to manage boats anchored in the estuary, especially those that live there,” De Lappe said. “But the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office has since disbanded its unit.”

“A lot of people who come and rent spaces to leave their boats overnight or for months come back and there are people who live in their boats,” said Councilor Noel Gallo.

An example of this is present in the parking lot of the Jack London Square aquatic center. Emails obtained by the I-Team show the city received reports that students on the high school team were being harassed and threatened by those living in the parking lot.

“The problem has gotten significantly worse where our young people can’t even go out freely and sail or row their boat,” Gallo said. “We’re trying to resolve this here with the Oakland Police Department, we don’t have a boating operation.”

INTERACTIVE: Take a look at ABC7 neighborhood safety monitoring

This is where the US Coast Guard comes in. Cpt. Lam says there are several types of vessels that would be used in situations like this, including a 45-foot response boat that the Coast Guard would deploy to assist local agencies.

“Additionally, we will look to utilize some of our air assets to provide an overt air presence,” said Cpt. Lam. “So we see what’s happening along the estuary.”

“Throughout your career, have you ever seen the situation get this bad in the Oakland Estuary?” asked ABC7’s Stephanie Sierra.

“Well, I would certainly say this phenomenon of criminal activity in the maritime domain is new to me,” said Cpt. Lam. “I think it’s going to take a comprehensive interagency effort to really effectively address this problem. And we’re committed to doing that.”

Cpt. Lam says the U.S. Coast Guard is also focusing on any vessels that may disrupt military traffic along the canal as well as the pollution threats those vessels may pose.

Take a look at more stories from the ABC7 News I-Team.

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