San Diego federal agents find 72 people in three panga boats


Federal agents in San Diego detained 72 people who had been in panga boats headed from Mexico north into the U.S. earlier this week, Customs and Border Protection officials said.

Agents with the Air and Marine Operations team spotted the three boats with their lights off late Monday, the agency said in a news release Friday.

The boats happened to be traveling at the same time but the three vessels were miles from each other
and were not operating as a convoy, an agency spokesperson said.

About 2 a.m., agents stopped two of the boats at sea. The third made it to shore in the area of Sunset Cliffs, and its occupants tried to flee.


Customs officials said one of the agents saw a woman struggling in the water, being crushed by the boat and fighting against high tides.

The agent jumped in and pulled the woman to a rocky shore, where another agent scrambled down the rocks and helped pull her from the water.

The woman was taken to a hospital. A man who had been on the boat that reached Sunset Cliffs was also taken to a hospital, but an agency spokesperson said it was unclear how he had been injured, whether it happened on the boat or while getting off it.

The 72 people the agency detained were residents of Mexico, customs officials said.

Last year, federal officials in San Diego reestablished a marine unit to stop smugglers trying to bring migrants and drugs into the country by sea.

Ocean crossings can be deadly. Last year, three migrants died when a panga boat broke apart off Point Loma.