A U.S. Customs and Border Protection patrolboat in operation. Courtesy CBP

The Border Patrol and partner agencies announced plans Friday to step up holiday weekend coastal patrols using boats and helicopters amid a rise in maritime smuggling efforts.

From Friday, July 2, through Tuesday, July 6, San Diego residents will see an increase in various law enforcement activities all along the coastline, including at beaches and marinas, and in San Diego Bay.

“Community members are some of our greatest partners in combating maritime smuggling,” said Aaron M. Heitke, chief patrol agent for the San Diego Sector. “The sooner we are alerted to maritime smuggling attempts, the sooner we can interdict them and arrest these ruthless smugglers who seek only to profit from their criminal activity.”

Since the current federal fiscal year began Oct. 1 authorities have recorded 222 maritime interceptions yielding 1,319 arrests. That’s already more than all of the arrests in the entire prior fiscal year.

Officials said that in southern California criminal organizations often try to take advantage of increased holiday recreational boating traffic in an attempt to blend in and obscure their smuggling activities. 

“Maritime smuggling is a long and dangerous journey over an unpredictable ocean in open vessels that are overladen with people who are not wearing the proper safety equipment and are sitting alongside flammable fuel containers,” said Rafael Cabrera, director of air and marine operations for Customs and Border Protection in San Diego. “Smugglers have no regard for human life and are recklessly putting people’s lives at risk purely for profit.”   

If San Diego residents see smuggling-related activity, they are encouraged to call the Joint Harbor Operations Center at 1-800-854-9834 *1 to report any suspicious or potentially unsafe activities.

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Chris Jennewein

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