By Ted Reckas | LB Indy
Possible human traffickers landed a boat at Crystal Cove State Beach early Tuesday morning.
Its 10 occupants fled toward Coast Highway, a witness told a Newport Beach police officer, who was flagged down by a park visitor around 7 a.m.
This would be the fifth similar incident of a Mexican panga boat found in south county in the previous 12 months. San Diego-based Border Patrol agents have seized scores of boats and apprehended hundreds of people attempting to evade legal entry into the U.S. in the last year.
A land-based search for the former boat occupants involving several agents is ongoing in the area, said Border Patrol spokesman Rodolfo Zuniga.
The San Clemente Border Patrol station was notified and agents arrived at the state beach by 8 a.m. The abandoned panga held six life preservers, a few articles of clothing and some empty fuel tanks.
Border Patrol agents, who asked not to be identified because they are not authorized to speak for the agency, suspect the boat was involved in smuggling either people, narcotics, or both. Markings on the boat said Rosarito, Baja California.
A second call from Newport Beach police before 7:30 a.m. reported a second boat heading south in the same area, said Zuniga. The Coast Guard began a search for the second vessel at sea, he said.
Earlier this year near San Clemente, Border Patrol agents apprehended 44 people after discovering their pangas in separate incidents March 18 and Sept. 7, according to the San Clemente Times. Late last year in two other separate incidents, agents found the 30-foot fishing boat Pesca Deportiva adrift and unoccupied off Aliso Beach and another panga with a dozen life jackets, also abandoned at the county beach.
In the last 15 months, the San Diego Border Patrol has seized 142 vessels and taken more than 1,000 people into custody, Zuniga said.