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Panga Boat Carrying 23 People Discovered Off Coast Of Point Loma

A panga boat is pictured off the La Jolla coast, May 17, 2021.
A panga boat is pictured off the La Jolla coast, May 17, 2021.

Authorities discovered a panga boat carrying nearly two dozen people early Monday morning in waters off the coast of Point Loma, authorities said.

Shortly before 2:50 a.m., a Border Patrol agent operating a vehicle- based video surveillance system spotted a boat west of Point Loma, according to Border Patrol Agent Angel Moreno. The agent notified the U.S Coast Guard.

Panga Boat Carrying 23 People Discovered Off Coast Of Point Loma
Panga Boat Carrying 23 People Discovered Off Coast Of Point Loma
Listen to this story by Melissa Mae.

A U.S. Coast Guard cutter deployed a small boat, which made contact with the vessel west of Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, Moreno said. The panga boat operator ignored commands to stop and eventually became stuck in the surf line near the shore.


More agencies were called in to assist, including the San Diego Lifeguards and the San Diego Harbor Police.

The Coast Guard boat towed the panga boat from the surf line and removed 23 people aboard, the agent said. Twenty of the boat's occupants were men and three were women. The Border Patrol also said 20 of the people on board were Mexican nationals while three were Guatemalan nationals, and all were between the ages of 19 and 59.

The boat's occupants were taken to San Diego Lifeguard Headquarters, where Border Patrol agents questioned them and determined they were all "illegally present in the U.S.," Moreno said. All 23 were taken into Border Patrol custody for processing and CBP Air and Marine Operations seized the panga boat.

“Luckily, everybody was able to safely get out," Border Patrol Agent Shane Crottie said. "This location is very close to where, just a couple weeks ago, we had the maritime event that ended unfortunately with three deaths.”

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Since October, over 150 maritime smuggling events have occurred along the San Diego coast.

“Due to the increase in the infrastructure here in the San Diego sector specifically that has caused the smuggling organizations to attempt more dangerous smuggling attempts,” Crottie said. “The smugglers do not tell the participants the dangers that are involved.”

Crottie also said agents are seeing “boats that are ill-equipped, not large enough to support the amount of people that are on board. (They have) no navigation lights, a lot of times we are seeing boats that lack safety gear such as flotation devices.”

The Border Patrol is currently testing new technologies to reduce these smuggling events.

“We’ll utilize our mobile surveillance systems and we’ll work closely with our state and local partners to continue to combat this threat,” Crottie said.

The operator of the vehicle has not been identified and the destination of the boat is still unknown.

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