U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents removed thousands of pounds of what's believed to be illegal drugs from a panga that washed ashore Tuesday in Carlsbad.
Agents spotted the panga using a high-powered camera just before 3 a.m. near Ponto State Beach.
Agents seized nearly 3,000 pounds of narcotics with an estimated market value of $2 million.
It took a number of agents to move the haul from the deep bow of the panga into waiting USCP vans. The drugs will be tested and weighed and turned over to the Marine Task Force.
Two people were taken into custody. A third was believed to be still in the ocean.
Several agencies are using boat, personal water craft and helicopter to search the water. They're using the parking lot at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas as a helicopter landing area. As a result, the area is closed to the public.
Among the agencies helping in the search effort are lifeguards, firefighters from Carlsbad and Encinitas, San Diego County sheriff's deputies, Carlsbad and Encinitas police officers, USCP agents and U.S. Coast Guard.
Two of the other people on the panga were transported to the hospital, because of hypothermia.
“This is happening every day – either a human smuggling or a narcotic smuggling,” said U.S. Border Patrol Supervisory Agent John Carrell.
“It’s a very lucrative business, very dynamic and very dangerous for us,” he said.
When USCP crews go out and patrol every night, they go out with the assumption there are multiple pangas out at sea, he said.
The majority of the mules that take the narcotics from the beach to the Pacific Coast Highway are gang members.
“When my unit rushes the beach from seeing the panga come on, we have to deal with deal with three to five ‘boat captains’ then we have upwards of 25 gang members, mules and narcotics up there,” Carrell said.
Carrell added that the panga is preferred by smugglers because the boat's deep bow can hold a large number of drugs or humans. The boats can blend in to the waters.