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Smidgen of Marijuana Brings Boat Seizure, Coast Guard Says

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Times Staff Writer

The Coast Guard said it seized a 55-foot fishing boat off the coast of San Diego on Wednesday after finding less than an ounce of marijuana and a small amount of what appeared to be methamphetamine aboard the vessel.

The boat, the Maria Elena, was in international waters 75 miles west of San Diego when Coast Guard personnel boarded it about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, according to Charles Embleton, a Coast Guard spokesman in Los Angeles.

The seizure was the first off the California coast in the Coast Guard’s 6-week-old drug crackdown program called “zero tolerance.” Under the program, the Coast Guard seizes boats on which even minuscule amounts of illegal drugs are found.

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“The Coast Guard is saying that if you value your boat, make sure no one brings drugs on board,” Embleton said. “Under federal law, possession of any amount of illegal drugs is a crime. If it’s two seeds, it’s a crime.”

Last Saturday, Coast Guard officials in Miami seized a 133-foot yacht valued at $2.5 million after finding a tenth of an ounce of marijuana on board and threatened to sell it. On Tuesday, the Coast Guard relented and the yacht, the Ark Royal, was released after payment of $1,600 in fines and fees.

Coast Guard officials said little information was available Wednesday about the Maria Elena because radio transmissions had been sketchy and the boat and its Coast Guard escort were not expected to arrive in San Diego until Thursday morning.

Three crew members were aboard the Maria Elena when it was boarded by Coast Guard personnel who were stationed on a Navy ship, Embleton said. Officials would not say why they decided to board the Maria Elena or where the marijuana or suspected methamphetamine was reportedly found.

No arrests were made, but crew members could face charges for possession and attempted importation of illegal drugs, Embleton said.

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