Maritime ‘Repo Men’: A Last Resort for Stolen Ships

Thousands of boats are stolen each year, and some are recovered using alcohol, prostitutes, witch doctors and other forms of guile.

By IAN URBINA

MIRAGOÂNE, Haiti — In Greece, Max Hardberger posed as an interested buyer, in Haiti as a port official, in Trinidad, a shipper. He has plied guards with booze and distracted them with prostitutes; spooked port police officers with witch doctors and duped night watchmen into leaving their posts. His goal: to get on board a vessel he is trying to retrieve and race toward the 12-mile line where the high seas begin and local jurisdiction ends.

Mr. Hardberger is among a handful of maritime “repo men” who handle the toughest of grab-and-dash jobs in foreign harbors, usually on behalf of banks, insurers or shipowners. A last-resort solution to a common predicament, he is called when a vessel has been stolen, its operators have defaulted on their mortgage or a ship has been fraudulently detained by local officials.

“When we show up, things go missing,” said Mr. Hardberger.

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