LONG BEACH (CBS) — As security tightens at the land border between the U.S. and Mexico, the maritime border remains wide open.
CBS2 has learned 260 members of the National Guard are using special nighttime search equipment to help locate Mexican drug smugglers in small fishing boats called pangas.
“We have hundreds of miles of coastline,” says Homeland Security Special Agent Claude Arnold. “And they can’t be constantly patrolled without the assistance of our partners that include the National Guard.”
In the last two days, two panga boats were discovered along the SoCal coast.
Just before midnight Sunday, Guardsmen using an advanced thermal imaging system originally designed for Army scouts in Iraq discovered a darkened boat in an area where there is not usually traffic late at night.
The Guardsmen contacted Homeland Security and Border Patrol, whose agents seized the vessel.
Four undocumented passengers and nearly one ton of marijuana were found on board. The four men were arrested, as well as six additional suspected smugglers who were waiting on land to receive the illegal cargo.
“They’re desperate; they’re trying anything they can,” says Arnold. “We’re actually catching the smugglers and prosecuting them.”
Last year 26 pangas were seized between Ventura and Orange counties. In most cases, the smugglers had already gotten away. Officials hope the addition of the National Guard to the multi-agency state and federal task force will bring about more captures this year.