Recently, federal agents converged on another panga boat in Pacific Beach with several other illegal immigrants aboard — one of whom was discovered dead.
Monday’s Ocean Beach case was the latest in an ever-increasing string of human- and drug-trafficking cases being dealt with by the agency over the last few years in beach communities stretching from Point Loma to San Clemente.
The Border Patrol began tracking maritime smuggling in 2008 for the Southern California coastline and officials have seen a steady increase of smugglers coming ashore. In 2008, there were 33 reports of vessels seized and 230 people taken into custody, according to Border Patrol records. There was a slight increase in 2009, when 49 vessels were seized and 400 individuals were apprehended.
In 2010, the number of reported vessel seizures and people arrested more than doubled to 110 boats and 867 illegal immigrants taken into custody, said officials. There was another slight increase in 2011 with 122 boats seized — but fewer illegal immigrants arrested.
Agent Jerry Conlin of the U.S. Border Patrol’s public relations office attributed the fewer arrests in 2011 to a shrinking number of individuals per boat and an increase in coordination between federal and local law enforcement agencies.
“Originally, [illegal immigrants] were anywhere from three to 25 people on a Panga boat and up to 2,000 pounds of marijuana [per instance], but now they are closer to 10 to 15 people,” said Conlin.
Conlin also noted the wide variety of boats or vessels seized, which range from Panga boats to cabin-style cruisers, from pleasure crafts to dive scooters and even land-based vehicles or trailers used to tow the watercraft.
Since the Border Patrol has become so familiar with the Panga-style boats coming ashore, the types of watercraft used by drug and human smugglers has begun to change in attempts to evade the Border Patrol and other authorities, said Conlin.
“The Panga boats are the most commonly used because there are inexpensive and can be obtained easily in Mexico,” he said. “We are now seeing the smugglers use more cabin-style cruisers, which can be seen in Coronado, Mission Bay, Ocean Beach, Carlsbad and San Clemente areas.”
Consequently, the Boarder Patrol is urging residents of the beach communities to contact the agency at (800) 854-9834 or to call 9-1-1 if they see any type of open-style fishing vessel in the water.
“A Panga boat at night is always suspicious in U.S. waters,” Conlin said. Residents should call our number even if they are not sure whether or not it’s a panga boat.”
According to officials, there are increased consequences for anyone involved with maritime smuggling. Conlin said any individual arrested in connection with maritime drug or human smuggling will be formally deported from the U.S. and will not be able to apply for immigration here for five years. Any person who was previously arrested for maritime crimes who tries to re-enter the United States illegally faces prison time, he said.