SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- Federal authorities detained 21 Mexican nationals after a panga boat was stopped off the coast of San Diego early Thursday morning.
At around 1:00 a.m. on April 29, U.S. Customs and Border Protection spotted a panga boat about eleven miles west of the Point Loma shoreline. Inside the small vessel were 15 males and six females.
The boat occupants were determined to be undocumented migrants and were taken into Border Patrol custody.
Aaron Heitke, Chief Patrol Agent of the Border Patrol’s San Diego Sector, said, “As a constant reminder to the public, if you see something out of the ordinary near the coast, don’t hesitate to call authorities. These vessels are dangerously overloaded and unsafe in the ever-changing ocean conditions. Smugglers exploit migrants and put lives in significant danger for their own profit.”
Two of the 21 people aboard the vessel are suspected of leading the attempt to sneak into the U.S. by boat and will face federal smuggling charges, agency spokeswoman Jackie Wasiluk said.
So far this fiscal year, the Border Patrol has documented 157 maritime smuggling events in the San Diego area, according to CBP officials.
Federal authorities plan to ramp up their anti-maritime-smuggling enforcement operations this weekend, officials announced Friday morning.
"We've seen a dramatic increase in the number of maritime smuggling attempts recently," Heitke said. "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."
Through Monday, federal law enforcement authorities will dedicate extra resources to coastal patrols covering the land, air and sea, according to CBP public affairs.
City News Service contributed to this report