San Diego — Agents from U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Air and Marine (OAM), working with partners at the U.S. Coast Guard, stopped a panga off the coast of Southern California Tuesday attempting to smuggle approximately 1,500 pounds of marijuana.
OAM Air Interdiction Agents detected the panga shortly after 4 p.m. The agents, flying a new OAM Multi-Role Enforcement Aircraft, a twin-engine airplane, spotted the panga approximately 95 miles west of San Diego. Agents saw three people on board, multiple fuel cans, and a tarp covering much of the open hull on the fiberglass fishing boat, and proceeded to track the vessel as the boat continued north.
OAM deployed a Black Hawk helicopter and the U.S. Coast Guard deployed a Jayhawk helicopter to assist in tracking the suspected smuggling vessel. OAM Marine Interdiction Agents on three OAM interceptor vessels and the USCG cutter Blackfin responded, heading to the location near the Channel Islands.
OAM assets arrived on scene to intercept the panga as it approached San Nicolas Island and Santa Barbara Island off the coast of Los Angeles. OAM Marine Interdiction Agents arrested the three persons on board. The USCG crew aboard the Blackfin retrieved multiple bales of marijuana the smugglers had thrown overboard.
In total, officials seized 33 bundles of marijuana from the panga and the ocean, with an estimated street value of $675,000.
The Los Angeles Border Enforcement Security Task Force took custody of the three individuals, marijuana, and panga. All three persons were male Mexican citizens, ages 25, 41, and 50.
OAM routinely works closely with the USCG to protect our shores from this type of event. CBP also works in collaboration with other law enforcement agencies on a federal, state and local level to address the maritime threat along the California coast. These agencies have formed Regional Coordinating Mechanisms, which increase homeland security by addressing challenges associated with disrupting transnational criminal organizations.
If you have information about maritime smuggling or suspicious activity along the coast of California, please contact the Joint Harbor Operations Center at (800) 854-9834.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the unified border agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged with the management, control and protection of our nation's borders at and between the official ports of entry. CBP is charged with keeping terrorists and terrorist weapons out of the country while enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws.