Friday, July 1, 2011

Boat, 200 pounds of pot wash up on Rancho Palos Verdes beach

By Larry Altman Staff Writer

Customs and Border Protection agents responded to a report of marijuana washed ashore near Point Vicente on Friday afternoon. Along with the drugs were gasoline barrels and rain gear. (Brittany Murray / Staff Photographer)

A federal investigation was under way Friday after a 25-foot boat and 200 pounds of marijuana were discovered at a rocky Rancho Palos Verdes beach.

The marijuana - one bale in the water and another on the rocks - apparently had been aboard the boat found sinking at Point Vicente Fishing Access, a cove between the Point Vicente Interpretive Center and Terranea Resort, sheriff's Deputy Andrew Gill said.

The discovery came just two months after a similar abandoned skiff washed ashore on a Palos Verdes Estates beach. Authorities said that boat could have been used as part of a drug- or people-smuggling operation from Mexico.

A hiker roaming the Rancho Palos Verdes shore noticed the panga - a Mexican fishing boat - covered with gray plastic about 10:30 a.m. and contacted sheriff's deputies, Gill said.

Authorities found the boat, along with the bales of marijuana, 18 full blue fuel canisters, and yellow rain coats scattered along the beach.

Deputies said each marijuana bale contained six individual packages, and it appeared someone was smuggling pot into the area.

Sheriff's deputies towed the boat to Marina del Rey, where it will be examined. Investigators from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a component of the Department of Homeland Security, combed the beach for evidence, collecting the fuel cans and raincoats.

The fishing access area was closed to the public.

A lead agent declined to comment, saying the case was an ongoing investigation.

On May 13, federal immigration officials opened an investigation when a 25-foot skiff was found abandoned on the rocky beach at Bluff Cove in Palos Verdes Estates.

More than 100 gallons of fuel in 5-gallon containers were on board.
Deputies said the boat was not registered in the United States, and the life jackets and materials on board were in Spanish, leading investigators to believe the boat arrived from Mexico.

Detectives said the skiff could have been used to smuggle drugs or Mexican nationals into California.
Similar boat discoveries are becoming more frequent for border enforcement agents.

In San Diego on June 23, federal agents arrested a 19-year-old man and an 18-year-old woman on suspicion of smuggling more than 240 pounds of marijuana inside a boat at Shelter Island.
The marijuana's estimated worth was about $144,000.

On March 1, Border Patrol agents arrested two suspected drug traffickers when they landed in a panga on a Del Mar beach.

Agents had monitored the boat after spotting the panga off the coast of La Jolla with two men aboard and no lights at 3 a.m.

The boat contained 26 plastic-wrapped bundles of pot on the boat, weighing about 399 pounds.
On Dec. 28, eight to 10 people came ashore on a panga at Crystal Cove State Park in Newport Beach. They took off life jackets and clothes and disappeared.

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