Panga boat
Customs and Border Proteciton released this photo of the panga boat.

Customs and Border Protection officers intercepted a panga boat carrying 21 people off the coast of Point Loma late Thursday night.

Two people on the boat suspected of smuggling the passengers will face federal charges, CPB spokeswoman Jackie Wasiluk said in a statement.

Shortly before midnight Thursday, a CBP enforcement aircraft spotted the boat traveling 11 miles off the coast without navigational lights. Officers saw multiple people aboard the small, open craft, Wasiluk said.

At 1 a.m., a CPB enforcement vessel intercepted the boat without incident.

Agents determined that all 21 adults, 15 men and six women, were Mexican nationals with no legal status to enter the United States, Wasiluk added.

The Border Patrol’s San Diego Sector has documented 157 maritime smuggling events during the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

“These vessels are dangerously overloaded and unsafe in the ever-changing ocean conditions,” said Aaron M. Heitke, Chief Border Patrol agent for San Diego. “Smugglers exploit migrants and put lives in significant danger for their own profit.”

Heitke also urged the public to call authorities if they see something out of the ordinary near the coast.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.