Coast Guard interdicts 3 smugglers and over a ton of marijuana off California coast

LOS ANGELES – Three Mexican national men are facing federal drug smuggling charges following their arrest early Saturday by Coast Guard units in connection with the interdiction of a panga carrying more than a ton of marijuana about 57 miles southwest of San Nicholas Island, California.

A C-130 Hercules aircraft from Coast Guard Air Station Sacramento, Calif., spotted a suspicious panga boat while on patrol. The aircrew relayed the coordinates to the Coast Guard Cutter Active, a 210-foot Medium Endurance Cutter, for further investigation as they were patrolling nearby. The Active began to move into a position to intercept the vessel while the Coast Guard Cutter Blacktip was maneuvering to assist.

The Active launched their onboard small boat to intercept the panga with a boarding team onboard. The Coast Guard team was able to board the vessel without incident.

A visual inspection of the vessel by the boarding team led to the discovery of 267 bales of marijuana, with a total weight of more than 3,300 pounds.

“As we’ve become increasingly effective at interdicting maritime smuggling attempts, smugglers are resorting to more advanced and diverse tactics,” said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for HSI Los Angeles. “That includes carrying multi-ton loads of contraband and going farther out to sea. However, as the crew of this panga discovered, those efforts are increasingly proving fruitless in the face of the overwhelming federal law enforcement response.”

The panga, contraband, and three suspected smugglers were transferred from Active to Coast Guard Cutter Blacktip. The crew of the Blacktip transported the suspects to shore and turned them over to investigators with the multiagency Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST), spearheaded by U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations, for questioning. The case has been accepted for prosecution by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the three men were expected to make their initial appearance in federal court on the drug charges Monday afternoon.

“Every shipment of drugs stopped at sea denies international criminal organizations some of the resources they need to continue their illegal and deadly enterprise, and helps us better target their illicit networks,” said Rear Adm. Joseph Servidio, Commander of the 11th Coast Guard District. “The Coast Guard crews involved in this bust, along with our federal, state and local law enforcement partners, can be proud of their accomplishments. As our brave men and women work to stem the flow of smuggling we ask boaters and the public to help us by reporting any suspicious activity they observe at sea or along the coast. If you see something, say something.”

The Cutter Active is homeported in Port Angeles, Wash. The Cutter Blacktip is a 87-foot patrol boat home-ported in Oxnard, Calif.

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