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Boat carrying 21 illegal immigrants is seized off La Jolla coast, U.S. officials say

December 3, 2009 |  1:21 pm

Panga1

A small boat carrying 21 illegal immigrants tried to flee from federal agents before being stopped Wednesday morning about 14 miles off the La Jolla coast, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said today.

The 25-foot boat had been spotted farther up the coast near Leucadia by a U.S. Coast Guard cutter. A Blackhawk helicopter and a Midnight Express Interceptor vessel were dispatched to help track down the skiff-like boat, known as a panga.

The boat's driver was arrested as a suspected smuggler. The other people – 20 men and one woman, all of them Mexican citizens – were turned over to the U.S. Border Patrol.

Smugglers operating from beaches near Baja California's Rosarito Beach frequently subject illegal immigrants to dangerous and arduous journeys by sea. In this case, the suspected smuggler at least provided the immigrants with flotation devices, authorities said.

-- Richard Marosi in San Diego

Photo: A boat and its passengers seized by U.S. officials seized Wednesday off the La Jolla coast. Credit: U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

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