MORE than 100 anxious boat-owners gathered to quiz Dorset Police’s chief constable about the fate of the force’s marine unit.

During the public meeting at the Poole Yacht Club in Hamworthy, mariners were reassured that the number of police officers working in the unit will increase. However, the officers will also be diverted away to assist with major investigations, such as murders.

“Currently, we have a pretty rotten Humber RIB [rigid inflatable boat] that keeps breaking down and isn’t really big enough,” Chief Constable James Vaughan said.

“It’s served well enough for about four years now but it’s becoming unviable. The hull keeps leaking.”

Instead, the force will invest around £250,000 in a new, much larger vessel, which will continue to be moored in Poole, he said.

The number of dedicated officers in the unit will also treble.

Chief Constable Vaughan said the new unit will be modelled on the force’s new rural crime team, which aims to cut crime in the countryside.

“Those officers have done any incredible job of engaging with rural communities,” he said.

“We want to replicate that here.”

The new team will deal with all aspects of marine crime, including thefts from boats, fisheries threats and immigration, it was said.

The head of Special Branch has already asked Chief Constable Vaughan if officers could be deployed on the new boat to carry out counter-terrorism operations.

“Of course, the answer was yes. We’ve now got that capability,” he said.

The marine section has a responsibility for policing the force’s 89 miles of coastline out to a distance of 12 miles.

Officers’ remit includes managing crime in Weymouth and Christchurch harbours, the smaller fishing ports of West Bay, Lyme Regis and Swanage and the world’s second largest natural harbour in Poole.

Police frequently work with a range of other agencies, including the coastguard, and Poole’s RNLI crews are the most frequently tasked in the country.

During the meeting, members of the public voiced their concerns about a range of issues.

One asked for more maritime patrols to deter would-be criminals, while another said there should be dummy cameras – similar to unused gatso speed cameras – dotted around marinas.

The questioner was told there are already around 30 cameras already at the Hamworthy marina.