REGION – A panga boat heading in an unconfirmed direction was spotted early Tuesday morning more than 100 miles southwest of San Diego by a U.S. Coast Guard C-130 Hercules aircraft.
According to Petty Officer Connie Gawrelli A U.S. Coast Guard boarding team found three men, all claiming Mexican nationality, along with an estimated 250 bales of marijuana each weighing 10 to 40 pounds on the boat.
The interdiction took place in international waters.
Gawrelli couldn’t comment on how common it was to spot panga boats in the area where it was found, or go into too much detail as to why the boat appeared suspicious.
“Essentially, it matched some characteristics from previous smuggling cases,” Gawrelli said. “And so once we did arrive on scene we were able to determine it, in fact, did have contraband.”
The three men, contraband and the panga boat were turned over to the Mexican Navy, though Gawrelli said she didn’t know what went into the determination of turning the men over.
She said she wasn’t aware of how common it was to turn over alleged smugglers to the Mexican Navy, only that they do sometimes try to prosecute them in the United States.
The Coast Guard Cutter Edisto was the first to make contact with the panga boat and was the only U.S. asset to do so, according to Gawrelli.
The Edisto launched a small boat crewed by a boarding team to the panga, Gawrelli said. “They went over to the panga and boarded it and that’s when they found the contraband, and then the Mexican Navy arrived on scene…and they took it from there,” she added.
The Edisto has been stationed in San Diego since 1997 and has the ability to remain at sea for two weeks, covering a range of more than 1,800 nautical miles. “They’re a multi-mission asset,” Gawrelli said. “They do multiple things from drug and migrant interdiction to search and rescue.”