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Slicing Up A Smuggling Boat, After The Fact

Destruction Of Smuggling Boat

A few weeks back I did a story on the rise of maritime smuggling along the Southern California coast. I profiled a man whose job is to pick up abandoned smuggling boats from San Diego beaches, and sometimes to rescue smugglers stranded at sea.

Planning a story as a radio (and video) journalist is often much different — and more difficult — than doing so as a print journalist. The best stories have multiple, sound-rich scenes that weave together the interviews and facts (which tend to be less interesting to the ear), and keep the listener paying attention.


I was hell bent on having this scene in my story: contractors with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol chopping a smuggling boat into little pieces so it can’t be used again. I was surprised, and excited, when the media relations folks at CBP offered to make this happen for me. So excited that I didn’t notice a significant date change for the event, right before the winter break.

I headed down to the boat yard on the day I thought it was going to happen with my video camera and audio equipment. I tweeted about getting ready to watch the chopping, and then sat and waited, and waited and waited until I figured out I had messed up.

Not willing to give up easily (the story was scheduled to run the next day), I called my CBP press contact and begged him to help me out. The people at the boat yard were willing to bump up the boat destruction to accommodate me, but after hours or waiting and false hopes, it wasn’t going to happen.

How long do you wait to get the perfect sound? For me, it’s always a tough call. It depends on how much time you have to get the story out, of course, but at some point you have to know when to give up.

Luckily, I convinced my editors at KPBS to send videographer Nick McVicker to shoot the boat destruction the following week. And with the wonders of the internet (and the Fronteras Desk blog), I can at least show you what it looked like, even though it didn’t make it into my story.


The boat being destroyed in the video is from Ensenada, Mexico, and was likely used to smuggle people. Notice the empty Fanta bottle and snack bags, and the kid’s life jacket. The destruction team disables the engine and slices the boat into chunks.