A GANG of military-trained Eastern Europeans has stolen millions of euros worth of outboard engines and marine equipment here and in Northern Ireland over the past three years.
The highly-expert squad, believed to be from the eastern Baltic states, has carried out night-time raids on marinas, suppliers and harbours across Ireland and have yet to be arrested.
The gang has reconnaissance, engineering and logistic skills which gardai believe came from military training. They even carried out overnight robberies during last December's big freeze.
They have carried out operations in which over 100,000 worth of outboard engines and equipment have been taken.
In two raids in Northern Ireland they took 40 outboards from yacht clubs in overnight raids in Co Down.
They are also stealing to order, marine sources say. Last year they took a gearbox from a 175hp outboard in Wexford but left the engine, even though the complete outboard was worth 20,000.
Two weeks ago, they were caught on CCTV as they arrived in two people carriers in the middle of the night at Bullock Harbour in south Dublin, swam out to boats and took away all the petrol containers they could find.
The marine petrol cans cost about 75 each and they left all the mainly low-powered outboard engines alone.
Marinas on the Shannon have been badly hit, with one supplier forced to close last year after having 100,000 worth of outboards and equipment stolen.
In Bullock Harbour last week, Western Marine chandlers were preparing to repair a rigid inflatable when they discovered it had an outboard engine, worth 10,000, previously stolen in Cavan.
In May, the gang used a rigid inflatable dinghy to steal five outboards from boats moored in Skerries. Five days earlier, three rigid inflatable boats and their engines were taken from a house in Greystones, Co Wicklow.
Last month they broke into the Alsaa sports complex near Dublin Airport and stole the Aer Lingus Aqua Club's large rigid inflatable along with a 150hp engine worth 50,000.
More than 1,500 outboard engines, ranging in cost from a few thousand to 20,000, have been recorded stolen in Northern Ireland.
It is not known how many have been stolen in the Republic -- though industry sources say it definitely runs into thousands.
Marine insurance sources say the losses in the Republic in the past three years have run to millions. The industry is having to hike its premiums and owners are hit as engines that have depreciated in value generally have to be replaced by new ones.
Bob Killen of Killen Marine in Dalkey, south Dublin, said he had "many customers" who had outboard engines stolen or knew of thefts.
"They have taken engines and the control box. They did not just cut the wires they were careful to have everything complete. They know what they are doing," he said.
- JIM CUSACK
Originally published in The Sunday Independent