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As Piracy on the Estuary Continues, Coast Guard Announces Patrols

After nearly a month of lawlessness and what liveaboard residents have described as a state of perpetual fear and anxiety, the Coast Guard announced this week that they will begin patrolling the Oakland Estuary to combat a recent outbreak of piracy.

“Our plan is to increase the level of Coast Guard law-enforcement presence in the Estuary at random times throughout the day,” Captain Taylor Lam of the USCG told ABC7 News this week. Lam said the Coast Guard will deploy different multi-mission small boats, as well as “some of our aviation resources to provide overt presence from the air.”

This is certainly welcome news for residents who have seen the near-daily theft of boats, motors and equipment from local marinas and yacht clubs. This is also probably uncharted territory for the Coast Guard, who are tasked with homeland security, drug enforcement on the high seas, and the safety of mariners, and who have told Latitude that they don’t typically engage in civilian law enforcement.

“So far, we’ve seen little to no change,” an Estuary liveaboard told us yesterday. “[On Wednesday], a friend reported there was a patrol boat across from us and they were excited that they seemed to be kicking folks out of their anchorage,” the liveaboard said, referring to a flotilla of illegal anchor-outs near Union Point Marina. “[But] as soon as they left, all the derelict boats were back.”

After reportedly being shooed away by a new Coast Guard patrol on Wednesday, this anchor-out returned a short time later.
© 2023 Anonymous

“We have seen quite an increase in Coast Guard patrolling — they just went by now in their helicopter, flying low,” a longtime Alameda liveaboard told Latitude this morning. The liveaboard also told us that just last night, several gas cans were stolen on the Oakland side of the Estuary.

“Something has got to be done — it’s so brazen. There’s such a high level of concern and fear from people who live on and have boats. It’s pretty scary. It’s led me to buy a shotgun.

“We’ll have to wait and see how effective [the Coast Guard patrols] will be.”

It’s obviously early in the Coast Guard’s deployment, and it’s unclear when (or if) it might bear fruit. Regardless, the Coast Guard’s presence will be just one piece of the Estuary puzzle — meaningful and lasting enforcement will require the efforts of multiple agencies.

There’s been speculation that the Oakland Police Department’s marine unit is expanding. According to former Oakland harbormaster Brock de Lappe, OPD officer Kaleo Albino, the lone “waterside” officer assigned to the Estuary, has reportedly trained/certified three additional officers for a temporary 90-day deployment. “He is awaiting the award of a $170,000 grant from the SAVE [Surrendered and Abandoned Vessel Exchange] program of the California Division of Boating and Waterways for dealing with derelict and abandoned vessels.”

A City of Oakland spokesperson told Latitude that OPD is prepared to enforce the new Nuisance Vessel Ordinance, pending grant funding.

“Primary funding for the maritime unit has relied on state and federal grants. Over the last four years, OPD has secured nearly $2 million in state and federal funding to purchase our police boats and equipment related to the marine unit; a portion of our fuel costs are paid for by the Port of Oakland.” the spokesperson told us.

“Typically, we apply for $50,000 per grant and have expended the funds quickly. This year, we applied for $170,000 to deal with the increased number of vessels in the Estuary.”

The Alameda Police Department will continue to have a limited presence on the Estuary; APD’s marine patrol boat is still on the hard, and all staff have other full-time responsibilities, according to de Lappe. “Alameda has done an exemplary job of preventing anchor-outs on its shoreline; they apply annually for SAVE grant funds. Alameda PD recently provided Oakland with $30,000 from their SAVE grant to assist with Oakland’s vessel cleanup,” de Lappe added.

The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office no longer has a marine unit due to budgeting and staffing, according to the City of Oakland spokesperson.

Enforcement is, of course, just one part of the criminal justice system. Once caught, accused thieves must be prosecuted. After our story about the rash of thefts in the Estuary, several readers wrote to tell us that after having their cars and other property stolen, Oakland and Alameda district attorneys declined to press charges. It’s presumed that in Oakland, there is a backlog of violent crime that takes precedence over larceny, or dare we say piracy?

Editor’s note: The word piracy has been making the rounds in the media, and is obviously in the title of this story. Latitude’s understanding is that piracy typically describes theft or violence committed on the high seas, or “the ocean water column that lies beyond the boundaries of any one country, also known as areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ),” according to the United Nations Law of the Sea. The same theft or violence committed in inland jurisdictional waters is simply considered robbery and assault.

Cover photo: The Oakland Estuary, as seen from Union Point Park, in November 2021.


  1. Candy 8 months ago

    Hopefully the USCG patrols will help but we’ll see. With no prosecution for the criminal activity by Alameda County, I have my doubts. I wouldn’t say that such activity by the USCG is “uncharted territory” as they have always had the ability to stop/board any vessel for a safety inspection.

    • Tim Henry 8 months ago

      Candy — That’s a fair point, but here’s question that Latitude has been asking for some time: Let’s say the Coast Guard boards your vessel for a safety inspection and finds several violations. Your flares are expired, you don’t have enough PFDs, etc. The Coasties write you a ticket. What happens then? Can they take you to court? Can they levy fines against you?

      We honestly don’t know the answer to these questions. (If anyone does, please let us know.)

      Regardless, the Coast Guard has told Latitude 38 that they do not typically engage in civilian law enforcement, meaning they don’t usually chase thieves stealing boats and gas cans. Instead, they chase terrorists, drug runners off the coast, and coordinate extraordinary rescues of mariners at sea.

      Maybe there is a precedent for the kind of action the Coast Guard is preparing to take in the Estuary. (Again, please let us know if you know.) But when asked by ABC7 News, “Have you ever seen it this bad in the Estuary?” Captain Taylor Lam of the Coast Guard said, “This phenomenon of of criminal activity in the maritime domain, it’s new to me.”

  2. Mike Bravo 8 months ago

    While of great concern and need of address, it is not, as the editor’s note states, piracy. Use of semantics to create further alarm or to “add impact ” does not help. Perhaps rather than a note, the title might be adjusted to reflect a more accurate and objective approach. We do need to be more careful and alert and LE does need the resources to not just act after the fact but to have a presence. Of course, this will not help if courts are backed up and suspects simply walk away. It is a very different world now and whether on the water or land, we need to look out for each other.

    • Tim Henry 8 months ago

      Mike — Another fair point. There’s no question that the word piracy will get more clicks than the word theft. Theft and piracy are technically interchangeable, the only distinction being where the theft occurred — either inshore, or on the high seas.

      Readers: Does anyone look at this story differently if we use the word ‘theft’ vs. ‘piracy’?

  3. Ken Brinkley 8 months ago

    No prosecution equals no consequences. Sadly somebody is going to get hurt . Live aboard ‘s need to come together and form mutual aid security. You watch my property,I’ll watch yours . Marinas might take a new look at liveaboards . A positive presence in any situation.

  4. steve grogan 8 months ago

    Another less expensive idea for the Coast Guard would be to post a guard with a powerful spotlight on the stern of the Cutter closest to the derelict boats housing the pirates. Turn on the spotlight when suspicious activities are suspected and take telephoto photos of the perpetrators to assist local police.
    Also this type of guard duty might encourages the pirates to move elsewhere or cease their activities.
    And guard duty on the Coast Guard duty on their own boat could be budgeted and justified as a normal Coast Guard function rather than a departure into civilian policing.

  5. Mike Bravo 8 months ago

    Theft can occur without physical violence. Piracy, by it’s nature of being at sea with crew aboard, usually involves coercion, intimidation and very often physical violence. It is not interchangeable with theft any more than mugging is. How many acts of violence have occurred? Do we need to act if it is just theft? Of course! But with measured response and a eye towards cause and prevention.

  6. Tracy Reigelman 8 months ago

    Bottom line, the Oakland/Alameda Estuary has been impacted, and ignored, for quite a while. Illegal activities on the water, and within several hundred feet of the shoreline have increased dramatically, and people are fearful. Encampments, along with illegal anchor outs, have grown, are flourishing, and reappear shortly after being disrupted. Shoreline facilities, such as the Bay Trail, are destroyed and/or overgrown in many areas along the Estuary. The Cities of Alameda and Oakland at least appear to listen, but action is slow coming. Agencies, such as BCDC, don’t respond to requests and complaints. The method that appears to have worked to bring about some visibility and awareness is to refer to pirates and piracy. There is an issue with the pirates – and they are responsible for a large portion of the concerns raised by those that live, work and play on and within a few hundred feet of the Estuary. Shoreside crime has grown in the area as well, and the types of crimes are beyond theft to physical assault and harassment. There are other concerns shoreside as well, than impact the Estuary and people that rely on it. Agencies ignorance of the area, or inability to provide meaningful response and resolution (including prosecution) is a moral injury that needs to be fixed.

  7. Denise d. 8 months ago

    Thanks for the coverage and details of law enforcement such as it is; good to hear the details about budgets and resources available to these units. Tim Henry asked if we would see the story differently based on the descriptive “piracy.” I do. Let’s not romanticize what is happening by using the term “piracy.”
    I’d like to see reporting on who is committing these acts of theft – that may help with prevention. What is known about the perpetrators? Surely we have some descriptions and details from the victims. Do they come to the estuary by small boat? Car? Kayak? Are the parking lots being patrolled? Is this a marine extension of the rampant inland thievery in Oakland? Seems to me we need to try to target the heart of the problem. Why is this happening now and in this location?

  8. Tom 8 months ago

    Who are these “pirates” and where did they come from? The article seems to focus on problem and solution but not cause. Did these guys just start showing up one day?

    • Tim Henry 8 months ago

      Tom — Please follow the link in the third paragraph for the original story on the current problem.

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