San Diego, California - Agents from U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Air and Marine (OAM), and their partners at the U.S. Coast Guard, spotted and spooked two drug loaded pangas resulting in the seizure of more than 130 bales of marijuana that was jettisoned into the ocean Thursday.
Early Thursday, a boater reported a suspicious 40-foot three-engine panga loaded with many bales and fuel barrels, and two passengers on board.
CBP Air Interdiction Agents in an OAM Multi-role Enforcement Aircraft (MEA) King Air 350ER patrolling the area detected the panga in international waters some 160 miles southwest of San Diego, where the passengers began jettisoning bales of marijuana. USCG Cutter Waesche was dispatched to the area of the debris field to pursue the target vessel and retrieve the bales. The panga headed in a southerly direction toward Mexico.
A second suspicious panga was later sighted in the same general area. Upon seeing a CBP OAM MEA, that panga’s four passengers began to jettison bales of marijuana. A USCG Hercules C-130 aircraft relieved the MEA on station and later observed the second panga head south toward Mexico. USCG Cutter Waesche was dispatched to this area also.
“Boating citizens are our force multiplier in the battle against maritime drug and human smuggling,” said William Raymond, OAM Director of Air Operations in San Diego. “This is a great illustration of support for DHS’s - See Something – Say Something Campaign.”
So far, the US Coast Guard has recovered 133 bales of marijuana from the two pangas, weighing more than 3,300 pounds with an estimated street value of $1,990,000.
“Close coordination and flexible, responsive law enforcement crews aboard CBP and Coast Guard aircraft and vessels once again led to the successful disruption of a smuggling operation,” said Capt. Greg Burg, chief of law enforcement for the 11th Coast Guard District. “But our law enforcement teams need information, and we appreciate assistance from the mariner community to help us stem this dangerous and illegal activity.”
The Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection are member agencies of the Regional Coordinating Mechanism (ReCoM). The ReCoM is comprised of the U.S. Coast Guard, CBP's Office of Air and Marine, Office of Field Operations, U.S. Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations and state and local law enforcement partners operating in Southern California. The ReCoM coordinates planning and operations to target the threat of transnational crime along the coastal border.
If you have information about maritime smuggling or suspicious activity along the coast of California, please contact the Joint Harbor Operations Center at 1-800-854-9834.