Federal agents investigating an apparent maritime human-smuggling attempt off the coast of San Diego early Thursday detained 16 people who had illegally crossed into the United States from Baja California in a panga-style fishing boat.
Customs and Border Protection agents were alerted by the Coast Guard's San Diego Joint Harbor Operations Center (JHOC) to the presence of the panga in the border-area ocean waters shortly after 1:30 a.m., according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection public affairs.
Personnel aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Halibut located and began tracking the the boat in ocean waters, roughly 15 miles west of Sunset Cliffs.
About 4:30 a.m., Border Patrol agents found and detained 12 men and four women, all Mexican nationals, who appeared to have been dropped off in the water near the Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier in La Jolla and made their way to shore.
All the members of the traveling group were in the United States illegally, CBP spokeswoman Jackie Wasiluk said.
Officials were unable to locate the boat or its driver after it dropped off the group in La Jolla. This was one of at least one dozen incidents to have taken place in the San Diego region since April 5, 2021.
The interception came one day after local enforcement leaders pleaded to migrants not to put their lives in the hands of human smugglers in light of an increase in deadly attempts in recent months. The acting U.S. Attorney for the San Diego region also said his agency was cracking down on human smugglers who put others' lives in danger for profit.
There have been at least four devastatingly deadly smuggling attempts in the San Diego and Imperial counties region in the last several months, including a maritime event that left three dead off the coast of Point Loma and a crash that left people who were jam-packed in an SUV dead.
The suspected smugglers in both attempts were charged.