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  4. Joint Effort Foils Maritime Smuggling Attempt

Joint Effort Foils Maritime Smuggling Attempt

Release Date
Mon, 06/14/2021

Chinese national among 16 found aboard panga heading to U.S. coast

SAN DIEGO – U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Air and Marine Operations agents took custody of 16 undocumented migrants aboard a single engine “panga” type vessel offshore of Sunset Cliffs, early this morning.

This panga was used to smuggle 16 illegal migrants
This vessel was used to smuggle 16 illegal
migrants across the ocean to U.S. coast.

The men, 15 Mexican nationals and one Chinese national, were attempting to illegally enter the U.S. when they were intercepted.

“As CBP strengthens its border security on land, criminal organizations are resorting to the ocean for their illicit activities which is inherently dangerous,” said Aaron M. Heitke, Chief Patrol Agent, San Diego Sector, U.S. Border Patrol. “As this and other recent interdictions indicate, our strategic partnerships and joint efforts are vital to achieving operational control of the U.S. coastline.”  

The event occurred about 3 a.m. when San Diego Sector Border Patrol agents observed a suspicious vessel traveling without navigational lights toward the U.S. coastline. The agents notified maritime law enforcement and a U.S. Coast Guard small boat and an AMO coastal interceptor vessel responded to the area and without incident interdicted a 25ft panga.

The AMO crew determined that all 16 men on board were attempting to illegally enter the U.S. and brought the occupants to the dock while USCG towed the panga to Naval Base Point Loma. All 16 illegal migrants were turned over to U.S. Border Patrol agents for processing and AMO marine interdiction agents seized the panga.

fuel jugs
Fuel containers are packed haphazardly in
an effort to make this treacherous journey.

“Ruthless smugglers are unconcerned with the grave dangers associated with maritime smuggling including capsizing, hypothermia, and drowning,” said Rafael Cabrera, Director of the San Diego Air and Marine Branch.  “Instead, these criminal organizations line their pockets by carelessly packing illegal migrants into poorly maintained vessels for a journey via an unpredictable ocean.”

Maritime smuggling events are inherently dangerous. An attempt to smuggle more than 30 people into the United States along the coast of San Diego in early May turned deadly after the smuggling boat broke apart along a reef at Point Loma. The result was three deaths and over 20 others on board were significantly injured.

If you have information about maritime smuggling or suspicious activity along the coast of California, please call the Joint Harbor Operations Center at 1-800-854-9834, ext. 1 or call 9-1-1, and you will be directed through the proper channels.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection is a member agency of the Regional Coordinating Mechanism (ReCoM). Other members include federal, and state and local law-enforcement agencies operating in Southern California.  The ReCoM coordinates planning and operations to target the threat of transnational crime along the California coastal border.

Last Modified: Jun 14, 2021