Mexican drug cartel pirates have made their debut on Falcon Lake in Zapata County, Texas.
Texans have reported seeing armed boatmen on the lake, which hosts some of the largest bass fishing tournaments in the U.S. and shares a border with the northern Mexican state of Tamaulipas. Not unlike the infamous Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden, pirates on this lake have reportedly wielded high-powered rifles and automatic weapons.
After several incidents in the past month, including armed robbery and attempted armed robbery, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Zapata County Sheriff's Department are urging all boaters to stay out of Mexican waters. (The international border is in the middle of the lake.)
"It's piracy," said Zapata County Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez. "It may not be on the high seas, but they are taking advantage of people on this lake by threatening and robbing them."
On April 30, five U.S. men on two separate boats ventured into the area of Old Guerrero, a colonial town that's now a ghost town, on the Mexican side of Falcon Lake, according to a press release from the Texas Department of Public safety (TDPS).
Tom Bendele, owner of Falcon Lake Tackle, in Texas, said he knew the victims involved in the incident.
Bendele said while his friends were taking photos of an old church during a fishing trip on the Mexican side of the lake, four heavily tattooed gunmen in an old bass boat approached them.
"They boarded the boat at gunpoint," Bendele recounted. "They were all wearing black and [my friends] told me one had Z's tattooed around his neck -- the others had Z's tattooed on their wrists."
The men had reportedly identified themselves as "Federales" (Mexican Federal Police), but they were not wearing uniforms. According to the TDPS, they demanded cash, asking, "Where are the drugs?"
The U.S. fishermen told them that they were just fishing and taking photos. They ended up giving the men $200 in cash before leaving the area.
Gonzalez said he believes the pirates may be working for the paramilitary drug cartel organization, the Zetas.
"They need money right now, they are broke," said Gonzalez. "They are not paying salary to them right now, so this is the only way they know how to get money. They don't know how to do anything else anymore."
According to Bendele, the confrontation lasted about a half hour.
"The [pirates] also told them, 'Tell all your men to stay away. We'll be checking everyone who comes this way,'" Bendele said.
After hearing about his friends' ordeal, Bendele posted a warning to his Web site, alerting fisherman of the possible dangers on the lake: "I am not trying to alarm anybody here. But you need to know that there is a gang war going on just across the border. And until one side wins there is a possibility that you could end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. If you do fish Mexican waters, it is probably best to stay near the main lake, and if you see anything that makes you uncomfortable, leave."