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A novel way to steal a $2M yacht

A Sunseeker employee pilfered parts over a seven-year period to build a luxury yacht in his garage

A Sunseeker employee pilfered parts over a seven-year period to build a luxury yacht in his garage

The case bears a striking resemblance to the Johnny Cash country music hit “One Piece at a Time.” But whereas the Detroit autoworker in the 1976 recording stole parts to build a Cadillac, James Light was more ambitious.

Over a seven-year period, the engineer with British boatbuilder Sunseeker swiped parts intended for $2 million luxury motoryachts. Stern lights, lifting straps, junction boxes, even a 4-foot radar mast sailed past security at Sunseeker. But the plan was sunk when his employer discovered a DVD player hidden inside his tool box and called police. The investigation led officers to a garage where they found 700 parts worth $110,000. One key item missing from the stash: a hull, which a spokesman for the firm pointed out “he could hardly have walked out with.”

Light, who is 35, hatched the plan after realizing that with his modest salary he would never be able to afford one of the boats, which fall into the price range of film stars, Russian oligarchs and Formula 1 racing drivers. “Through an investigation at his home we found a rented lock-up garage,” says detective inspector Jez Noyce, investigating police officer. “There were over 100 boxes of items believed to be from Sunseeker stored in the garage. Most of the items were electrical components, and Light would have been involved in fitting them to 53-foot boats at work.”

Noyce says Light had stolen a wide range of items, from the radar mast and a 23-inch wide-screen television, to packets of electrical connectors worth just pennies. “He said he was either going to build a boat or buy one and then modify and do it up with the parts,” says Noyce. “I have no idea how someone managed to sneak all these items past security at Sunseeker, especially a 4-foot radar pole and a large television.”

Light had been working at Sunseeker, based in the English coastal county of Dorset, for 11 years when he was arrested in September 2005. The garage was found halfway between his home and his workplace. He claimed to have bought the parts legitimately from a third party, but with the weight of evidence against him he pleaded guilty to 17 charges of handling stolen goods and two counts of theft at Bournemouth Crown Court in April. He was given a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, and ordered to do 200 hours of unpaid work in the community.

Light was fired by Sunseeker after his scheme was uncovered. “Sunseeker helped identify the parts through serial numbers, and it was established that they were stolen,” says a company spokesman. “Mr. Light was immediately suspended from his position while the police continued with their inquiry. … We haven’t got a clue as to how these parts came to leave the factory. There are very stringent security measures in place. There are security cameras and a strong security presence to make sure everything stays where it should.”

Andrew Levy is a reporter based in London.