Human Smugglers Come Ashore in Emerald Bay

A boat believed used by human smugglers found abandoned at Crystal Cove. A similar boat made shore in Emerald Bay last Thursday.

U.S. Border Patrol agents arrested two illegal aliens last Thursday in Laguna Beach, among possibly nine passengers aboard a small, panga-style boat that disgorged its human cargo along Emerald Bay’s crescent oceanfront, some of the county’s priciest real estate.

Nine life jackets and 13 gas cans containing 80 gallons of fuel were found on the broad beach around 5 a.m. along with an overturned vessel still in the water, but close to shore, said Coast Guard duty officer Lt. Ana Thorsson from San Pedro.

A search of the immediate area by a Coast Guard helicopter and 45-foot boat for other passengers ensued and was unsuccessful, though two people later taken into custody nearby told local police others passengers had made it to shore safely, Thorsson said.

As authorities have improved security along the U.S.-Mexico border, human smuggling incidents by sea have become more routine. Five similar incidents occurred in Orange County last year. Typically, though, boats are navigated to and abandoned along less densely developed shoreline, such as the boat discovered last December at Crystal Cove State Beach. Thursday’s incident was a first for Emerald Bay, where the white wooden vessel described by one resident at “bare-bones” had been hauled into the beach-side street by 8 a.m.

Black humor quickly surfaced among residents, who counted the passengers unlucky to land in a place watched by security guards or speculating that fleeing passengers weren’t captured by authorities because they all quickly found jobs within the gated community.

Two men who apparently tried to flee south were taken into custody in Whiskey Cove, a secluded beach beneath the steep bluffs of Smithcliffs with limited public access off McKnight Drive.

The two men, a 34-year-old from Mexicali, in Baja California, and a 38-year-old from Alamo, in Sonora, Mexico, were taken into custody by two plainclothes Border Patrol agents who were in the area, said supervising agent Steven Pitts.

The pair are Mexican nationals who were found to be in the country illegally, Pitts said.



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