A pleasure craft used to smuggle nine people on Sunday.. Photo courtesy Border Patrol

Border Patrol agents and the San Diego ReCoM, a DHS partnership, arrested 39 people during a five-day effort called Operation Shining Sea that targeted maritime smuggling near San Diego beaches.

“The unified effort between the U.S. Coast Guard, CBP Air and Marine Operations, CBP Office of Field Operations, Homeland Security Investigations, and the U.S. Border Patrol, San Diego Sector increases border security in the maritime environment from unknown threats,” said Chief Patrol Agent Aaron M. Heitke.

The first incident occurred on June 13 shortly after 4 p.m. when OFO and USBP agents were notified by the Joint Harbor Operations Center that a suspicious vessel was preparing to come ashore at Ski-Beach in Mission Bay.  Agents and CBP officers responded to the area in time to find the boat operator tying-off at a nearby dock.

Agents interviewed the seven individuals on board; all were male Mexican nationals illegally present in the U.S.  The group was taken to a local Border Patrol station for further processing.

The boat was seized by AMO.

The second incident occurred on June 14, around 10 a.m., when agents from USBP’s watercraft unit observed a suspicious pleasure craft entering Mission Bay.  The boat had nine people on board and docked near Quivira Basin.  The boat operator tied off the boat, and those onboard disembarked, making their way to a vehicle parked nearby.

Agents moved in quickly and apprehended the suspects.  The group consisted of seven men, one female, and one juvenile.  All nine people were Mexican nationals illegally present in the U.S. and placed under arrest.  Agents also arrested two U.S. citizen men who were waiting inside the vehicle.

The group was transported to a Border Patrol station for processing and AMO seized the vessel while USBP seized the vehicle.

The final event took place shortly before midnight on June 15 when AMO air assets spotted a vessel traveling north from the U.S./Mexico maritime boundary.  AMO marine interdiction teams intercepted the vessel offshore with 20 male Mexican nationals onboard.  All 20 with no legal documents to enter the U.S.

With assistance from USCG, the 20 men were transported to Ballast Point and turned over to USBP agents, who transported the group to a local station for processing.  Two of the men on board were found to be boat captains and face criminal prosecution.

The boat, a 25-foot panga style vessel with eight 25-gallon fuel containers on board, was seized by AMO.

“As a constant reminder to the public, if you see something out of the ordinary near the coast, don’t hesitate to call authorities,” said CPA Aaron M. Heitke, “These vessels are dangerously overloaded and unsafe in the ever-changing ocean conditions. Smugglers exploit migrants and put lives in significant danger for their own profit.”

To prevent the illicit smuggling of humans, drugs, and other contraband, the U.S. Border Patrol maintains a high level of vigilance on corridors of egress away from the U.S. borders.  To report suspicious activity to the U.S. Border Patrol, contact San Diego Sector at (619) 498-9900.