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3 arrested, pot seized after boat washes ashore

Authorities say 19 bundles of marijuana worth nearly $730,000 were found on the open-hulled panga boat at San Diego County's Carlsbad State Beach.

November 16, 2011|By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times
  • A 25-foot panga boat and 19 bundles of marijuana were seized by the U.S. Border Patrol at San Diego County's Carlsbad State Beach in what authorities said was an attempt to smuggle 1,460 pounds of pot into the United States.
A 25-foot panga boat and 19 bundles of marijuana were seized by the U.S. Border… (U.S. Border Patrol )

Reporting from Carlsbad, Calif. — Three men were arrested Tuesday in what the U.S. Border Patrol said was an attempt to smuggle 1,460 pounds of marijuana worth $729,950 into the United States aboard a 25-foot, open-hulled panga boat.

Two of the suspects — a 31-year-old Mexican national and a 29-year-old U.S. citizen — were apprehended as they attempted to flee after the boat washed ashore about 1:30 a.m. at Carlsbad State Beach, officials said. Minutes later, Carlsbad police stopped a vehicle being driven by a 29-year-old Nicaraguan national who was in the United States legally. He was turned over to Border Patrol agents.

The boat had been detected by California Army National Guard troops working with the Border Patrol to spot smugglers heading north along the San Diego County coast. Helicopters, night-vision goggles and other high-tech gear are part of the arsenal employed in the hunt.

A search of the boat captured Tuesday revealed five fuel containers and 19 bundles of marijuana, officials said. The three men, the boat and the other vehicle were turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Panga boats are used by Mexican fishermen, as well as smugglers attempting to bring undocumented immigrants or drugs across the border. The Sinaloa drug cartel is suspected of involvement in such activity, officials said.

As enforcement has tightened along the border since 2007, smugglers have increasingly turned to the ocean as a route. Although most of the boats have come ashore in northern San Diego County, others have been found along the beaches of Orange and Los Angeles counties. Boats have come ashore near pricey homes in Del Mar, the nuclear power plant at San Onofre and the training beaches at Camp Pendleton.

Last year, nearly 900 illegal immigrants and smugglers were arrested at sea or along the California coast, double the number from the previous year.

Smugglers sometimes pack immigrants into boats that are not seaworthy. Often the undocumented immigrants pay up to $6,000 each for the chance to enter the United States, officials said. Last year, two undocumented immigrants drowned when their overloaded boat capsized off Torrey Pines State Beach.

tony.perry@latimes.com

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