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Border agents foil several attempts by sea smugglers

April 7, 2011 |  5:49 pm


    Routes from Rosarito Beach        Routes from Ensenada  Interdictions  Recent discoveries

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Mexican sea smugglers appear to be ramping up their efforts to land illegal immigrants and drugs on California beaches, with U.S. border agents foiling at least five smuggling attempts in the first five days of this month.

In one day alone, April 4, authorities from the multi-agency Maritime Unified Command seized three vessels, one of them an abandoned panga near Dana Point with 740 pounds of marijuana on board, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials.

Authorities that day also seized a 16-foot pleasure craft near San Diego’s Shelter Island carrying four illegal immigrants, and intercepted a boat off Del Mar with 12 illegal immigrants on board. Three other men on that fishing vessel were charged with human smuggling.

On April 1, border agents arrested six illegal immigrants after their Bayliner pleasure craft landed ashore at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas. On April 5, a U.S. Coast Guard cutter intercepted a boat 20 miles off La Jolla carrying 16 Mexican nationals, two of whom were charged with alien smuggling.

Smugglers have taken to the high seas in response to increased enforcement on land. Border authorities have expanded the Maritime Unified Command to Orange County, but the recent surge may be a sign that enforcement efforts are not deterring smugglers.

The smuggling groups charge immigrants as much as $6,000 to take them from isolated launching spots near Rosarito Beach and Ensenada to Southern California beaches. The rickety vessels, carrying as many as 20 people, have at times broken down in high seas, and at least two immigrants have drowned.

-- Richard Marosi in San Diego