NEWPORT BEACH (CBSLA.com) — More than a dozen illegal immigrants were arrested Thursday after they were discovered hiding in the hull of a pleasure craft in the waters off Orange County.
Orange County Harbor Patrol deputy William Nelson was conducting his routine rounds when the boat caught his attention Thursday afternoon.
“We saw the boat adrift in the channel and it was very, very low in the bow of the boat,” Deputy William Nelson said.
Nelson boarded the boat and immediately saw smoke coming from the engine compartment, officials said.
He went to investigate and found 15 illegal immigrants hiding in the hull.
“They told us they’d been on the water for two days, coming up from Ensenada and Rosarita. No food, very little water and they were stuffed in the front of the boat like sardines,” Nelson said.
Officials say this incident was the first time human smugglers have made it into the Newport Harbor.
“These people are adapting their organizations and they’re starting to use . . . pleasure craft because obviously they can conceal their cargo, whether it be narcotics or human cargo,” Claude Arnold, ICE Special Agent, said.
According to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, Thursday’s bust was the twelfth smuggling incident in Orange County this year.
No drugs or weapons were found during a preliminary search of the boat.
The 15 illegal immigrants have been taken into custody and are being held at a Border Patrol station in San Clemente.
Depending on their immigration status and criminal history, some could face federal charges, officials said.