In an effort to crack down on the growing number of recent drug and human smuggling incidents at sea, the U.S. Border Patrol has established a dedicated Marine Unit to patrol the waters off the San Diego coastline.
“The primary focus of the marine unit is to detect, interdict and deter human and narcotic smuggling along the California coastal border, which is vital to maintaining national security,” said Aaron Heitke Chief Border Patrol Agent for San Diego Sector.
The dedicated Marine Unit will be staffed by trained agents already working in San Diego. Agents will use 25-foot boats called Safe Around Floatation Equipped (SAFE) boats.
Heitke says the boats have been in dry dock in Florida. But, in light of a number of smuggling incidents, the boats would be put back into action.
Heitke made note of the changing smuggling landscape as land and border entries have become more secure.
“Transnational criminal organizations are resorting to increasingly dangerous smuggling activities on the high seas,” said Heinke.
In May, three people died and 27 others were injured when a vessel packed with immigrants slammed into rocks off Point Loma and disintegrated.
As we have seen in recent events where lives have been tragically lost, these organizations treats smuggled people as a commodity showing little to no regard to the lives of those they are exploiting for profit,” said Heitke.
The chief border patrol agent said there has been close to a 93% increase over the last two fiscal years in the number of maritime apprehensions in Southern California.
So far this year, 1,232 people have been apprehended. Heitke says summers are typically busier, and so he expects the yearly total to far exceed the 1,273 apprehensions for all of 2020, according to Homeland Security.
Heitke says there has also been a troubling increase in maritime narcotics smuggling.
To date this fiscal year, homeland security has seized 2,810 libs of narcotics in U.S waters off Southern California, said Heitke.