Law enforcement officials are ramping up operations to disrupt maritime smuggling off the coast of San Diego this weekend, particularly warning potential border crossers of the dangers of trying to illegally enter the U.S. at sea.
“We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of maritime smuggling attempts recently,” said Chief Patrol Agent Aaron Heitke, U.S. Border Patrol, San Diego Sector. “All of these illegal crossings at sea are inherently dangerous, and we have seen too many turn from risky to tragic as smugglers sacrifice the safety of those on board for the sake of profits.”
From Friday, April 30 through Monday, May 3, federal law enforcement partners will dedicate extra resources to coastal patrols covering the land, air, and sea. San Diego residents will see an increase in various law enforcement and public safety agencies all along the San Diego coastline, including at beaches and marinas, in San Diego Bay, and out along the coast. Assets on the land and on the water will be working in conjunction with crews in helicopters and airplanes providing aerial patrols. 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, or 9-1-1 for any emergencies.
“Safety of life at sea is our highest priority,” said Captain Timothy Barelli, commander, U.S. Coast Guard Sector San Diego. “Interdictions of suspected human smuggling at sea are as much rescues as they are law enforcement operations. There is grave risk of capsizing, hypothermia, and drowning.”
“When we interdict suspect vessels, we routinely find unsafe conditions, with people overcrowded into small boats without necessary safety equipment,” said N. Michael Montgomery, Director, U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s, Air and Marine Operations, San Diego Air and Marine Branch. “The individuals on board these small vessels, trying to enter the U.S. illegally, frequently are not told of the dangers they will face on their journey and are not prepared. They will end up far out to sea, in a small boat without adequate food, water, safety gear, or protection against the elements.”
On just Thursday of this week, CBP Air and Marine Operations interdicted a small wooden “panga” type vessel traveling without navigation lights 11 miles off the coast of Point Loma with 21 people on board. [https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/local-media-release/cbp-interdicts-overcrowded-panga]
Through the Regional Coordinating Mechanism, law enforcement officials in the San Diego region routinely coordinate to: share intelligence; coordinate assets for coverage, patrols, and response; leverage resources dedicated to securing San Diego waterways; plan operations; and more. Officials from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, including Air and Marine Operations, the U.S. Border Patrol, and the Office of Field Operations, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations, have worked with law enforcement and public safety partners to target this upcoming weekend as spring and summer weather comes to San Diego, bringing both an increase in recreational boating traffic, and a misperception that warmer weather will make illegal crossings safer or easier.
“As resources permit, we will keep up these increased maritime patrols,” said Director Montgomery. “We anticipate that there will be continued emphasis operations to follow up after this weekend’s initial push.”