Suspected Undocumenteds Detained after Boat Is Spotted Off Leo Carrillo
• Ten Taken into Custody Had Scattered in Parkland after Being Dropped Off near the Beach
BY ANNE SOBLE
Eight men and two women who are Mexican nationals were detained last Friday after a boat that may have been engaged in illegal human trafficking was spotted offshore in western Malibu.
An interagency law enforcement investigation got underway at about 8:30 a.m. when an empty 25-foot boat—the type of fishing craft referred to as a panga—washed ashore near Leo Carrillo State Beach.
Pangas have become the vessels of choice for the smuggling of human cargo and drugs along the Southern California coast as illegal land crossing at the Mexican border has become increasingly difficult and dangerous.
The interagency team, including Los Angeles and Ventura county sheriff's departments, state park rangers, local county firefighters, helicopter units and the Ventura office of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency joined the effort.
After several hours of combing the rugged brush in Leo Carrillo State Park, the 10 suspected undocumenteds were found several miles from the beach. They were dehydrated but otherwise had come through 15 hours at sea and what may have been a rough disembarking relatively unscathed.
Although there were reports that there were other passengers loose in the area, no additional people were found.
Last Friday's incident was the sixth in a series of suspected smuggling occurrences reported at or near the Malibu-Ventura County line in recent months.
In July, 15 suspected undocumented immigrants were discovered on Santa Cruz Island, where they reportedly were abandoned by a smuggler.
In late June, a group of suspected undocumenteds was found in Malibu.
In March, suspected smugglers and more than a ton of marijuana were found on Santa Rosa Island after their boat reportedly ran out of gas.
Agency officials decline to speculate how many boat trips are successfully completed.
A dozen or so immigrants and a few crew members is the usual load carried by a boat. Travelers pay as much as $5000-$7000 for the arduous trip on the high seas.
Smugglers will often unload immigrants in dangerous circumstances to avoid being caught with them on board.
ICE has issued alerts asking passersby to call 911 to report suspicious activity along the western Malibu coast. However, the craft often travel without lights, usually arrive in the pre-dawn hours, and may not be readily visible to motorists.
Agency spokespersons indicate that they expect sea smuggling to increase as land border enforcement becomes more stringent.
A major concern is that, in addition to human cargo, there is narcotics trafficking. It has been confirmed that some passengers cover part or all of the pricey journey by acting as mules, or couriers, for drug dealers.