IAMI, LEOs working with private sector to curb vessel theft and fraud

The International Association of Marine Investigators provides training to combat marine theft, arson, fraud and other criminal activity in the marine environment


By Chris Castelli, PoliceOne Contributor

It may seem unusual for law enforcement to work hand in hand with private sector investigators, but that is exactly what the International Association of Marine Investigators (IAMI) is doing – and it works.

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), 5,116 watercraft were stolen nationwide in 2016. This accounted for a 1 percent increase over 2015. Of the reported thefts, only 38 percent were recovered through March 2017.

Public and private sectors are working and training together to combat marine theft, arson, fraud and other criminal activity in the marine environment. (Photo/Chris Castelli)
Public and private sectors are working and training together to combat marine theft, arson, fraud and other criminal activity in the marine environment. (Photo/Chris Castelli)

IAMI’s mission is simple: to develop and provide high levels of training to law enforcement, insurance investigators and other marine professionals. With public and private sectors working and training together to combat marine theft, arson, fraud and other criminal activity in the marine environment, IAMI is committed to reduce thefts and increase recoveries through awareness and cooperation.

The organization was originally founded in 1986 when Major Dave MacGillis of the Florida Marine Patrol organized and published the first “Vessel Theft Investigators National Roster.” This roster was intended to assist investigators in combating marine crime by providing contact persons involved in marine theft investigations in various agencies. It was an effort to network marine investigators to combat high-profit, low-risk marine theft and insurance fraud by providing contacts that could enhance investigative efforts. 

The roster was initially made up of approximately 300 individuals, both law enforcement and private individuals, who had agreed to assist in the investigation of stolen boats, motors and boat trailers, in addition to titling and insurance fraud. When these contacts were called upon, they provided cooperation by doing documented searches, interviews, inspections, or whatever else it took to support the successful investigation.

By the 1990s that original roster became the organization now known as the International Association of Marine Investigators (IAMI), with over 500 members between the U.S., Canada, Europe, the Caribbean and Oceania. 

Today IAMI members include law enforcement officers, insurance fraud investigators, fire investigators and marine surveyors. There are many success stories where vessels have been recovered and arrests made due to the cooperation and relationships between private sector and law enforcement investigators forged through IAMI training and networking.

Each year, IAMI hosts a three-day annual training seminar and one-day regional trainings across the United States. Sessions include fire investigations, boating accident investigations, fraud investigations, Admiralty Law, boat theft and fraud investigations. IAMI also awards an “Investigator of the Year” to an LEO who used the valuable training, expertise and valuable networking acquired through the organization to complete a noteworthy investigation.

IAMI also offers the designation of Certified Marine Investigator to recognize those investigators who demonstrate and exemplify the highest professionalism, educational and ethical values within their chosen marine investigation fields. The successful CMI candidate undergoes a rigorous application process, to include high standards of education, certifications, published materials, lectures, training and work history. The CMI designation has been recognized through the Federal District Court Level as a recognized expert designation.

For more information on IAMI, the CMI Program and the Annual Training Seminar to be held in Biloxi, MS, visit http://www.IAMIMarine.org.

About the author

Chris Castelli is a SIU investigator with GEICO Marine/BOAT US and recently retired after serving 28 years with the Clay County Sheriff’s Office in Florida. He was selected to develop Clay County’s first full time Marine Enforcement Unit and served as a marine enforcement officer for 20 years. Chris is a Certified Marine Investigator and serves on the Board of Directors for the International Association of Marine Investigators (IAMI). He is an active certified instructor in Boating Safety through the National Safe Boating Council, A BUI instructor for the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) and was recently been appointed to the Florida Boating Advisory Council.

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