Man steals Harbour Ferry boat, takes it for a ride up Gorge

A man was arrested early Tuesday for stealing a harbour ferry and leading officers on a marine pursuit.

Victoria police were called about 3 a.m. to the waters off Swift Street for a report that a man had stolen a ferry and was headed up the Gorge Waterway.

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When officers arrived, the ferry changed direction toward the Inner Harbour, police said.

With the assistance of a Harbour Ferry maintenance supervisor, officers pursued in a company skiff. The coast guard vessel Cape St. James also helped and took officers on board.

The skiff closed the gap on the stolen ferry and the officers aboard were able to speak to the suspect and persuade him to surrender, police said.

A charge of theft over $5,000 will be recommended.

Harbour Ferry general manager Barry Hobbis said the ferry theft was a first in 30 years for the company. He said the ferry emerged unscathed.

“We’ve had lots of things ­happen with the boats, but we’ve never had anybody take one for a joyride,” said Hobbis, who lives in Saanich and saw the motion-detector cameras go off at the wharf via his iPhone.

“I could hear noise but I couldn’t see anything, and then about five minutes later I could see somebody on one of the boats.”

Hobbis called police and the maintenance supervisor, but before they could get there the thief started his trip. “He started off jauntily down the harbour beeping the horn.”

There were signs the man had sat there and enjoyed a ­couple of sub sandwiches before he got the ferry going, Hobbis said. “He had a little picnic before taking off.”

Hobbis said he was impressed with the way officers were able to talk the man into stopping.

“Eventually they got alongside and pushed him up to the Harbour Air dock, where he was arrested,” he said.

Hobbis said it “dumbfounds” him that the man was able to start the ferry, valued at over $125,000.

“Because it’s not an easy ­process, there’s no key,” he said. “I think what he did is he just fooled around until he discovered something.”

Hobbis said preventive ­measures have been taken.

“It was a gap in our security that we resolved by installing kill switches that will make it impossible for anybody to start the boat.”

jbell@timescolonist.com

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