UPDATED: Boat washes ashore in Manhattan Beach carrying nearly a ton of drugs

US Customs and Border Protection

The loaded panga boat found by authorities early this morning in Manhattan Beach. The picture was taken by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection — Border Patrol agents who were the first authorities to arrive at the scene.

Two Mexican nationals have been detained for questioning after a panga boat came ashore in Manhattan Beach early Saturday morning with nearly a ton of marijuana on it. They have not been identified by name.

The incident is part of what Congress is calling an increasing trend of drug smugglers using these low-slung fishing speedboats, to sneak drugs into the U.S. from Mexico.

“A recent trend identified off the California coast is a shift from using smaller panga vessels that make quick cross-border dashes onto beach areas near San Diego to using larger pangas that transit further out to sea and land further up the California coast,” Donna Bucella, assistant commissioner with CBP, said during a Congressional House subcommittee hearing last June.

Officers with U.S. Customs and Border Protection were conducting routine surveillance in El Porto Beach Saturday morning when they saw the boat approaching the shoreline, according to a statement by U.S. Customs.

“The agents responded to the scene and encountered several individuals and bundles consistent with bulk marijuana,” the statement said. The boat was carrying approximately 1,850 pounds of marijuana. Authorities with a Los Angeles border security team seized the bulk of it.

According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, there were 116 recorded maritime smuggling incidents in Southern California between Oct. 2011 and June 2012. Those include all types of vessels, not just panga boats.

Authorities intercepted another 29 smuggling operations offshore in that time, seizing more than 80,000 pounds of marijuana between San Diego and San Luis Obispo. 

Three lawmakers called on Homeland Security to brief Congress on plans to crack down on the trend in January after the death of a U.S. Coast Guard member in Ventura County in December. The officer died when smugglers rammed the vessel into the Coast Guard’s boat.

Two months ago, Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s narcotics detective seized about 2,000 pounds of marijuana found in 50 bales lying on the Arroyo Camada Beach with a panga boat nearby.

NBC Los Angeles reported that the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department has counted about 20 panga boats that have come ashore in the county over the last two years. 

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