SAN DIEGO—U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) partners, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations and the U.S. Border Patrol, arrested 57 people and confiscated more than 779 pounds of marijuana in multiple events during a four day period.
The first incident occurred around 5 p.m., on Fri., Oct. 4th, when an Air and Marine Operations (AMO) Air Interdiction Agent (AIA) spotted a suspicious 28-foot sailing vessel heading north across the Maritime Boundary Line (MBL). AMO agents notified the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), who responded immediately. Arriving within minutes, USCG was at the scene and reported 12 people onboard the sail boat. The 12 people were transferred to the USCG boat and taken to the Coast Guard Sector-San Diego pier. U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) agents responded and questioned the 12 people, determining that all were Mexican nationals illegally present in the U.S.
Agents identified two of the people as the smugglers. Agents took the 12 illegal aliens to a nearby Border Patrol station for processing.
The second event occurred at approximately 11 a.m., on Oct. 5th, when AMO agents spotted a suspicious vessel west of Coronado, Calif. Coordinating with USBP agents, AMO watched as the vessel docked at the Coronado ferry landing. Already alerted by AMO, USBP agents approached the people as they exited the vessel and attempted to get into nearby vehicles.
Agents arrested a total of 13 people. Eleven were illegally present in the U.S. and two were U.S. citizens. The group was transported to a nearby Border Patrol station for processing. USBP seized two vehicles.
The third incident occurred later that same day. At around 1:45 p.m., an Operation Stonegarden patrol encountered a 20-foot cuddy-cabin vessel approximately three nautical miles offshore of Oceanside, Calif. The boat was overloaded and clearly violating a number of safety regulations. There were 12 people on board and all were transferred to the Stonegarden boat then taken to a nearby dock. The Joint Harbor Operations Center (JHOC) was notified. JHOC relayed the group’s location to USBP agents. Upon arrival, agents questioned the 12 individuals and determined they were all Mexican nationals illegally present in the U.S. Two people in the group were identified as the smugglers. All 12 were arrested and taken to a nearby Border Patrol station for processing.
A fourth event transpired only minutes later around 2 p.m. Agents received a report about an abandoned boat near Point Loma, Calif., with suspicious bundles inside. Agents arrived and found 14 large bundles of marijuana. The marijuana weighed 779.11 pounds and had an estimated street value of $3,116,440.
The fifth incident occurred on Oct. 5th, at around 4 p.m. A USCG Cutter requested assistance in pursuing a vessel of interest that refused to yield. The site was approximately 12-nautical miles west of Torrey Pines State Park. A second USCG vessel responded and quickly made contact with the 29-foot, cuddy-cabin vessel. Twenty people were on board and were turned over to USBP agents.
All 20 occupants admitted to being illegally present in the U.S. Two of the suspects were identified as the smugglers, who were both Mexican nationals. The remaining 18 consisted of 16 Mexican nationals, one Guatemalan citizen, and one El Salvadorian citizen. The group was transported to a nearby Border Patrol station for processing.
The sixth event occurred on Oct. 7th, at approximately 8:25 a.m., the JHOC received a report regarding a small boat off-loading subjects at the dingy dock near Hawthorne St. and Harbor Dr. Ten unidentified people exited the boat and loaded into an awaiting vehicle, which immediately fled from the scene. The JHOC was able to confirm that the incident was a smuggling event. The small boat absconded the area and agents were unable to locate any of the people.
The last incident also occurred on Oct., 7th, at approximately 10 a.m., when USBP agents responded to a call from California State Parks officials in San Clemente, Calif. The park rangers indicated that there was an abandoned pleasure craft at Torrey Pines State Beach. Seven life-jackets were found onboard the vessel, no subjects were located or associated with the vessel.
The 57 arrested included 53 male subjects, three females, and one juvenile, including 53 Mexican nationals, 2 U.S. citizens, one Salvadoran citizen, and one Guatemalan citizen. Seven individuals were identified as suspected smugglers. The seven suspected smugglers will be charged with 8 U.S.C. 1324 – Alien Smuggling including formal removal proceedings. Four were found to have criminal convictions with prior removals and will be charged with 8 U.S.C. 1326 – Re-entry after deportation and the remaining 42 smuggled aliens will remain in DHS custody pending removal proceedings. Six of the vessels involved in the incidents were seized by AMO.
Maritime smuggling is an extremely dangerous activity for numerous reasons and smugglers will prioritize monetary gain over the wellbeing of their passengers. If you have information about maritime smuggling or suspicious activity along the coast of California, please contact the Joint Harbor Operations Center at 1-800-854-9834 or call 9-1-1 and you will be directed through the proper channels.