Coast Guard Apprehends Marijuana Smugglers After At-Sea Chase

Pacific Southwest Coast Guard News
SAN DIEGO — The U. S. Coast Guard intercepted a suspected smuggling boat and took three suspected smugglers into custody early Wednesday morning in international waters approximately 90 miles southwest of San Diego.

A Coast Guard C-130 aircraft on routine patrol first spotted the suspicious boat, known as a panga, near the Channel Islands. After being detected, the suspects attempted to flee and began throwing bundles out of their boat.

Two Coast Guard cutters and a 45-foot interceptor boat, a Coast Guard helicopter, a Navy vessel with a Coast Guard law enforcement team and a Navy helicopter operating in the region were alerted and assisted in tracking and pursuing the suspects for several hours. The crew of the Coast Guard interceptor boat stopped the fleeing panga and detained the three men aboard.

Bundles thrown overboard from the suspicious vessel were recovered and tested positive for marijuana. The suspects have been turned over to Interagency Maritime Task Force in San Diego.

“This case showcased the ongoing interagency collaboration and coordination, across the central and southern California region, that is critical to success in countering the threat to our citizens and streets driven by the illicit operations of drug trafficking organizations,” said Rear Admiral Karl Schultz, commander of the 11th Coast Guard District.

The Navy ship involved was the San Diego-based USS Rentz (FFG 46), with aircraft and crew from Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light 43 (HSL 43) Battlecats.

“USS Rentz and HSL 43 were honored to be a part of this operation,” said Cmdr. Lance Lantier, Rentz commanding officer. “We couldn’t have been more pleased to assist our interagency partners with stemming the flow of illicit narcotics from entering our shores.”

The Coast Guard, Navy, Homeland Security Investigations, Border Patrol, California Air National Guard, and many other partner agencies from the federal, state and local levels, as well as Mexican officials work closely on counter smuggling operations in the Pacific Southwest maritime border region and coastal areas.

“Dismantling maritime smuggling and defeating the transnational criminal organizations that use our Southern California coastal waters to smuggle illicit drugs and traffic human beings are critical to the mission of Department of Homeland Security,” said U.S. Border Patrol San Diego Sector Chief Patrol Agent Paul Beeson. “The strategic partnerships among Southern California law enforcement agencies on the federal, state, local and international levels, have made it very difficult for these criminal organizations to penetrate our coastal borders.”

Joint agency counter smuggling operations seized or disrupted more than 120,045 pounds of marijuana at sea in 2012, and more than 60,000 pounds so far in 2013 from the U.S.-Mexico maritime border to points as far north as Morro Bay. The same forces rescued or apprehended 877 suspected illegal immigrants at sea last year, and more than 200 so far this year.

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