Agents stop panga loaded with 17 men trying to enter US illegally off San Diego coast

SAN DIEGO — US Customs and Border Protection, Air and Marine Operations agents stopped a boat offshore of Sunset Cliffs early Wednesday, September 16, with 17 men onboard attempting to illegally enter the US, including 16 Mexican nationals and one Cuban national, according to the press release.

“It took two warning shots before the vessel would stop,” said Tim Sutherland, director of the San Diego Air and Marine Branch for US Customs and Border Protection, Air and Marine Operations.  “Unfortunately, we have smuggling organizations who will risk the lives of everyone on board, which is why our agents train on our protocols to safely stop smuggling attempts like this.”

The crew of multi-role enforcement aircraft on patrol off the coast of San Diego began tracking a suspicious vessel Tuesday, September 15, traveling without navigational lights with many people on board. The crew tracked the 24-foot panga as it traveled northbound from Mexican waters toward the US coastline, handing off tracking to the crew of a second multi-role enforcement aircraft. The crew of the second aircraft coordinated with the crew aboard a coastal intercept vessel, providing direction for the enforcement vessel to intercept the panga.

At about 1:30 a.m., the two boats met and the crew of the intercept vessel turned on lights and sirens, directing the panga to stop. However, the panga failed to yield and instead continued to flee. The crew of the intercept fired two warning rounds, after which the panga operator stopped the vessel about 12 nautical miles west of Sunset Cliffs.

Air and Marine Operations (AMO) marine Interdiction agents determined that all 17 men on board were attempting to illegally enter the US, and brought the panga and occupants to the dock. Emergency medical services personnel met the group at the dock after one of the men appeared lethargic; they were medically cleared. 

US Border Patrol agents took custody of the 17 men for processing and determined that they were 16 Mexican nationals and one Cuban national — ages 19-40. Agents processed the group for return to their home countries; the suspected operator of the boat was held, pending federal criminal charges. AMO marine interdiction agents seized the panga.

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