Pot-smuggling boat found off Malibu coast; 3 arrested, 1,600 pounds of marijuana confiscated


Three Mexican nationals were arrested and at least 80 bales of marijuana, with a street value of $1.6 million, were found.

Members of the U.S. Coast Guard spotted the panga fishing boat floating 150 miles off the coast of Malibu just after 11 p.m. Tuesday. When the suspects realized the authorities had found them, they immediately started dumping the bales of marijuana into the water.

"So far we've recovered about 1,600 pounds of marijuana," said Ross Feinstein, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). "U.S. Coast Guard is still on scene and they are obviously continuing to recover additional bales in the water."

The Coast Guard chased the boat to Point Dume and fired shots into the engine to disable the boat. The panga was then towed to the dock in Marina del Rey, and the three men were taken into federal custody.

Authorities said this is the fourth drug bust off the coast Los Angeles since Saturday.

"We have seen an increase in the number of pangas being used to smuggle narcotics from Mexico," said Feinstein.

This was a dangerous and bare-bones operation for the smugglers. They were floating 150 miles out at sea with no lights or navigation, 20 barrels of fuel and only cans of tuna and bread to eat.

"This is not a boat that should be 150 miles off," said Feinstein. "These are obviously the boats that were apprehended, [but] we don't know how many have possibly sunk, how many lives have been possibly lost by these drug smugglers. It's very dangerous."

It was unclear where the boat was headed. But in the past, smuggling operations like this from Mexico have landed as far north as Santa Barbara.

ICE officials said increased security on the southwest border means this probably will not be the last boat they find. Since last October, 51 people have been arrested and at least 14 pangas and 11,000 pounds of marijuana have been confiscated off the coast of L.A. County.

The three Mexican nationals arrested are facing federal drug smuggling charges.

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