Olympic rowing team’s boat engines stolen by criminal gang

Criminal gangs have targeted members of the Irish Olympic rowing team, stealing outboard engines from support boats and attempting to sell them abroad.

Gangs from Ireland and eastern Europe have also been responsible for a spate of boat engine thefts nationwide, with fishermen and pleasure boaters in Cork and Kerry particularly affected.

In the latest incident, several 15 and 20 horsepower engines were stolen from boats belonging to Rowing Ireland, the governing body of Ireland’s Olympic rowing team.

In a US navy seal-style operation, a criminal gang approached by water and pounced on Rowing Ireland’s centre at Ovens, Co Cork. They made away with outboard engines worth in the region of €25,000, cutting and slashing harnesses and ropes that secured them to pontoons.

The incident occurred in the early hours of Sunday, April 27, while visiting rowers were attending a camp at the centre.

“It has devastated us,” Hamish Adams, CEO of Rowing Ireland, said.

“They came in the dead of night and, although there were several people staying at the facility, they did not hear or see anything. It is clear that they came by water; otherwise we would have seen them.”

The outboards were on Rowing Ireland’s coaching launches used in the training of Ireland’s Olympic rowing team destined to take part in the Rio Games in 2016.

“This is a complete disaster,” said Mr Adams, who explained that training had to be cancelled as a result of the thefts. “It wasn’t just the outboards that has affected us. They caused a lot of damage as well in cutting them free. Control panels were also ripped off, which has added to the expense.”

The thefts are being investigated by gardaí at Crookstown. “The guards have been fantastic and very supportive,” said Mr Adams, “but we are not holding out much hope that we will get the outboards back.”

Rowing Ireland has now increased security at Farran, and is installing new security cameras.

“Over the last 18 months there has been a significant increase in the number of small outboard engines reported stolen,” said a Garda statement. “Most of these engines are stolen while unattended at remote locations on the main rivers and lakes of Ireland.

“A number of these engines have been recovered by gardaí in the hands of local and in some cases foreign criminal gangs. These gangs appear to have a good working knowledge of engines and carry with them the necessary tools to remove the engines from their boats.

“In some cases they are using boats to access marinas and loading boat engines onto the boat making good their escape to another part of the waterways.

“The criminal gangs use vans or trailers to carry the stolen boat engines away. Some of these engines have been exported to Europe and beyond.”

One of the many problems gardaí have encountered when engines have been recovered is trying to establish the owners. They have advised boat owners to ensure their outboard carries a unique serial number or other identifying feature.

Anyone with information about these thefts or any suspicious activity is asked to contact the Garda confidential line on freephone 1800 666 111.

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