Taking advantage of Miami's near-perfect year-round yacht weather, Angel Jose Limongi was frequently spotted jaunting around Biscayne Bay on his 45-foot pleasure craft, Breaking the Habit. And the boat was available for hire for anyone who wanted to do the same: For upward of $1,000, Limongi would find a captain and arrange a charter.
But the U.S. Coast Guard says Limongi had no authority to do so. According to an arrest affidavit, officials caught Breaking the Habit on at least four illegal charters. Over the weekend, Coast Guard investigators arrested Limongi for violating federal safety laws after he operated without the valid certificates and credentials.
"The Coast Guard will continue to aggressively pursue vessel operators who place the lives of patrons at risk," spokesman Petty Officer Second Class Ricky Perilla said in a statement. Limongi did not respond to a phone message and email seeking comment.
By all accounts, Miami's illegal charter boat industry is booming. In a long-form feature earlier this year, New Times detailed numerous examples of vessels operated by unlicensed captains with a flagrant disregard for safety regulations. The demand for luxury charters is high, and the new sharing economy makes it easier than ever to rent a boat directly from its owner. But the rise of unregulated rentals has led to passenger injuries and even deaths.
In Limongi's case, the Coast Guard says it first took notice of his boat in March during a routine boarding. The captain told officials the passengers had paid Limongi $1,000 for the charter despite the fact that Breaking the Habit did not have the necessary credentials. Limongi was cited for violating four federal safety laws.
Five days later, Coast Guard investigators served him with paperwork ordering him to cease operations. Yet less than a month later, Breaking the Habit was once again seen on an illegal charter trip. This time, according to an arrest affidavit, Limongi admitted he was paid $1,200 to take the passengers out on his boat. Once again, he was cited for safety violations.
Despite the repeated warnings, Limongi continued to send his boat out on illicit charters, investigators say. Earlier this month, the Coast Guard stopped Breaking the Habit after a passenger suffered an injury so serious it required hospitalization. September 10, agents issued further citations for the vessel.
Nevertheless, Limongi took $1,500 from 12 passengers who boarded his yacht this past Saturday, September 21, the Coast Guard says. As the group traveled through Biscayne Bay near the American Airlines Arena, Coast Guard officials stopped the boat and hopped aboard. In addition to being slapped with the latest round of citations, Limongi was arrested for knowingly and willfully violating a Captain of the Port order.
In an interview with Limongi, Coast Guard special agents noted his boat had been seen on at least four illegal charters. But Limongi quickly corrected them. According to the affidavit, he "replied that it has been at least seven times."
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