An international boat theft ring has surfaced in the Tampa Bay area. Criminals are swiping boats in the dark of night and taking them to Mexico.

In recent years, boat thieves have targeted Cannons Marina on Longboat Key.

“In some cases we’ll recover them and the motors will be gone, they’ll be stripped,” said Cannons Marina Assistant Manager Jim Gallagher.

But in most cases, they learn from the Coast Guard their boats are long gone and used for nefarious purposes.

“They’re using them in drug smuggling, people smuggling. They end up on the beaches in Mexico,” said Gallagher.

Longboat Key police say these crooks are back with a vengeance. Agencies across southwest Florida are seeing new cases of boat thefts, so they’re putting out a warning.

“They don’t go after the little ones and they don’t go after the old ones, they go after the nicest ones they can find that are not secured,” said Longboat Key Police Chief Pete Cumming.

Police say these crooks strike at night, targeting homes and marinas. They prefer twin or triple engine boats at least 30 feet long.

John Paskoski runs the Facebook page called “Stolen Boats and Motors in Florida.” It’s a page to help boat owners spread the word of their stolen property.

He told News Channel 8 he’s seen a spike recently.

Paskoski adds that crooks are so bold, they are taking boats out of people’s driveways.

Experts say the responsibility falls on the boat owners.

Make sure your vessel is secured, use surveillance systems and power off your boat lift. There are also security systems and GPS systems that can be purchased for boats.

“If the boat is just tied up in the canal, they can untie it and tow it away with a small boat and be silent and out [of] the canal in five minutes,” said Gallagher. “A lot of people get complacent with their boat behind their house and leave the keys in it.”

“Make those boats less attractive and more secure,” said Chief Cumming.

Law enforcement agencies across Florida are teaming up to combat this threat, but it’s truly up to the boat owners to stop this trend.

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