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'Pick up' vans found at Rancho Palos Verdes beach where panga was headed

December 10, 2012 | 11:19 am

Two possible "pick up" vehicles were found waiting in Rancho Palos Verdes early Monday as a panga boat carrying 25 people approached the shoreline in what's being investigated as a possible human smuggling operation.

The vehicles were parked near a winding trail that connects to the beach. One was a 1991 blue GMC van; the other a 2002 red Dodge sports van registered to a medical transportation company. 

The rear window of the GMC van has a sticker with the image of St. Jude that reads “cuida mi camino” or “protect my path.”

Homeland Security is now interviewing the panga detainees, hoping to learn who is behind the apparent  smuggling operation.

Border Patrol agents said they spotted the panga, a fishing vessel that has been used in recent years by drug and human smugglers, floating off of Abalone Cove about 5 a.m.  

The agents requested aid from other agencies as the boat approached the shore, said Virginia Kice,  U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman. Authorities said they don’t know what country the suspected migrants are from and are still trying to determine how many people were on the boat.  

Those who are not held for possible criminal prosecution will be turned over to U.S. Border Patrol for possible deportation proceedings, Kice said.   

Maritime smuggling has been on the rise in the last four years along the Southern California coast. In 2008 there were 45 human-smuggling-related incidents, most of them in the San Diego area. In 2012 there were more than 200, Kice said in a statement. 

In addition to federal authorities, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Port Police are involved, Kice said.

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-- Adolfo Flores and Ruben Vives in Rancho Palos Verdes

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