SAN DIEGO – On Thursday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations interdicted a small wooden “panga” type vessel 11 miles off the coast of Point Loma with 21 people on board.
Just before midnight, the crew of a CBP multi-role enforcement aircraft (MEA) spotted the panga floating out at sea with no navigational lights; the crew noted that there were multiple people on board the small craft.
The aircraft crew contacted the crew on an AMO interceptor boat so that they could begin making their way from patrol to intercept the panga.
As the panga continued northbound, the aircraft crew continued surveillance, noting when the craft began to turn and head east towards the coastline, and updating the agents on the AMO boat on its location.
At about 1 a.m., 11 miles west of Point Loma, the crew of the AMO boat made contact with the panga, hailing them with lights and sirens. The panga stopped without incident.
The crew took all 21 persons on board into custody and brought them to the dock. They were turned over to U.S. Border Patrol agents for processing.
USBP agents determined that all 21 adults, 15 men and six women, were Mexican nationals with no legal status to enter the United States.
Two of the people on the boat, the suspected smugglers, will face federal charges.
San Diego Sector (SDC) Border Patrol documented a record 309 maritime smuggling events during fiscal year 2020. This fiscal year to date, SDC has recorded 157 maritime smuggling events.
“As a constant reminder to the public, if you see something out of the ordinary near the coast, don’t hesitate to call authorities,” said U.S. Border Patrol San Diego Sector Chief Patrol Agent Aaron M. Heitke, “These vessels are dangerously overloaded and unsafe in the ever-changing ocean conditions. Smugglers exploit migrants and put lives in significant danger for their own profit.”