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52 people caught in 3 maritime smuggling attempts during July’s second weekend

Federal authorities detained 52 people between Friday and Monday in three separate maritime smuggling attempts off the county’s coast, officials said Thursday.

It was the second straight July weekend, following the Fourth of July weekend, in which federal authorities captured several dozen immigrants suspected of attempting to enter the United States unlawfully.

Marine smuggling attempts have risen sharply in recent years, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials.

In fiscal year 2018, there were 122 recorded maritime smuggling incidents and 433 arrests. Those numbers rose to 195 incidents and 662 arrests in fiscal year 2019; 309 incidents and 1,273 arrests in fiscal year 2020; and 389 incidents and 1,968 arrests in fiscal year 2021. Fiscal year 2022 is on pace to break last year’s record.

The increase in ocean human-smuggling attempts has come with deadly consequences, most notably in May 2021, when three people died and dozens more were injured when a boat broke apart off Point Loma.

“These vessels are often ill-equipped, under-manned and overloaded,” Capt. Timothy Barelli, the commander of the U.S. Coast Guard’s San Diego sector, said in a news release. “This is a recipe for a dangerous life-threatening scenario.”

The first of last weekend’s foiled smuggling attempts was also the largest, with authorities finding 31 people on a boat around 7:45 p.m. Friday a few miles off Point Loma. A Coast Guard crew stopped the small, overcrowded recreational watercraft.

Of the 31 people who were detained, all were Mexican except for one person from Ecuador, officials said. There were 22 men and nine women, all between 18 and 61 years old.

Around 8 a.m. Sunday, a Customs and Border Protection boat crew stopped a small fishing vessel heading north from Mexican waters into U.S. waters with five people on board, officials said. The CBP officers learned two people were U.S. citizens and three were Mexican citizens without authorization to enter the U.S.

The officers arrested the two U.S. citizens on suspicion of smuggling and turned the other three people, two men and one woman, over to the Border Patrol.

Around 1:15 a.m. Monday, CBP officers patrolling the ocean about three miles west of Point Loma came across a panga boat with 18 Mexican citizens, including an 11-year-old boy traveling with his mother and 16 other adults between 18 and 57 years old, officials said. All 18 were turned over to the Border Patrol, who confirmed none had authorization to enter the U.S.

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