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Capsized boat found near Palos Verdes; search is on for occupants

August 9, 2011 |  9:18 am

The Coast Guard is searching for the occupants of a capsized panga boat after it washed ashore near Bluff Cove in Palos Verdes early Tuesday.

The boat was found about 7 a.m. near the cove, and a multi-agency search-and-rescue operation was launched. Coast Guard helicopters are also being used in the search.

Coast Guard spokesman Adam Eggers said it was not clear what happened to the boat or how many people might have been on board. The area where the boat washed ashore is very rocky, he said, and there was no damage to the hull, leading authorities to believe the boat capsized farther offshore.

It is unclear if the boat was being used for human smuggling purposes, Eggers said, though a number of canisters have been recovered near the site. If the canisters held fuel, it would indicate that the boat was used for a long trip, which could mean it was used for smuggling.

For now, Eggers added, the focus remains on search-and-rescue efforts.

The U.S. Border Patrol, Los Angeles County Fire Department, Palos Verdes Police Department and Baywatch Cabrillo are involved in the search-and-rescue operation.

The Southern California coastline has emerged as a popular destination for Mexican smuggling boats. Maritime smugglers carrying drugs and people are traveling farther from the border to avoid increased patrols in San Diego County, authorities said.

Small fishing boats called pangas have landed on beaches as far north as Malibu. The landings are part of a surge in maritime smuggling attempts off the California coast that began in 2007 and have increased every year.

Last year, authorities took custody of more than 800 illegal immigrants at sea or on beaches, more than double from the previous year.


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Photo: Capsized panga boat washed ashore in Palos Verdes. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times