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Loose lips sink ships

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  • | 7:34 a.m. November 30, 2012
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Everybody loves a good pirate story.

But it's scary when it happens to you in real life. Just ask veteran yacht captain Marc Harris.

In 2007, Harris was the skipper of a 68-foot sport fisherman traveling from the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas to Bermuda when a 50-foot powerboat started silhouetting him at night.

Harris tried to contact the mystery boat on the radio. “They wouldn't respond,” he says.

So he armed his five crewmembers and warned the tailing boat that he wouldn't be such easy prey. The boat disappeared. “Piracy doesn't happen in the bay behind the house,” Harris says. “Do you want to be the one that's unprepared?”

Pirates aren't a bunch of ragtag swashbucklers. “Piracy is pretty high tech,” Harris says.

Now the CEO of Marcali Yacht Brokerage & Consulting, Harris has launched a division of the company that focuses on yacht security. Harris wants his company to be a full-service brokerage, so security has to be a part of that, he explains.

But Harris says it's hard to promote a service where confidentiality and secrecy is of utmost concern. After all, he's handling business for some of the wealthiest yacht owners in the world.

Leading the division are two men: Tim and Keith. Neither will give his last name, and they don't want to be photographed. “Keith and I are the only ones who meet with the customer,” says Tim.

Tim and Keith won't reveal anything about themselves, where they live or work. It's understandable because what they know could be dangerous for them and their clients.

Much of the work consists of building secret compartments in yachts to hide valuables and weapons. As he attests from personal experience with pirates, Harris says he won't venture on the high seas without being armed, particularly if it's an expensive yacht.

Concealment isn't limited to weapons or valuables. They're for people, too. Tim and Keith build what's dubbed “panic rooms.” They're hidden compartments for people to hide, sometimes bulletproof.

Harris recalls how the crew of a Miami fishing-charter boat named Joe Cool was hijacked a few years ago and its crew murdered by customers who later turned out to be fugitives from the law.

Because these compartments are custom-built, it's essential that few people as possible know how they're concealed. “Every yacht is designed for a specific owner,” Harris says. “Discretion is paramount to a boat owner.”

That's why Harris and his crew will only work on a yacht that's already been built. Too many workers might see the secret compartments and the technology that's used for concealment during the boat-building process. “Loose lips sink ships,” says Harris, repeating the old maritime saw. “We don't involve marine architects.”

Harris met Tim and Keith at a boat trade show. “There aren't a lot of guys who do what they do,” Harris says, declining to be specific about the cost of such custom projects. “This type of security is unique.”


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