Laguna Beach, Newport Beach see panga boats appear on shorelines

Life jackets and 12 gallons of gas were aboard this panga boat that came ashore at Agate Street Beach.
A panga boat came ashore at Agate Street Beach in Laguna Beach on Wednesday morning with more than a dozen people.
(Courtesy of the city of Laguna Beach)

Local residents have witnessed multiple panga boat sightings along the coastline this week, including landings seen in Laguna Beach and Newport Beach.

A video circulated Wednesday showed about 15 people rapidly exiting from a boat that had come ashore at Agate Street Beach in Laguna Beach.

“This is unreal. This is mind-boggling,” a person can be heard saying on the video, which was posted to a Laguna Beach community Facebook page, as they watched the boat being left at the beach.

Officials say the small vessels are often used to smuggle migrants and narcotics into the United States. Enforcement efforts on illegal immigration are headed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The Agate Street Beach incident involved a panga boat from Mexico and occurred at approximately 9:55 a.m. on Wednesday, according to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson. There were 14 individuals detained — nine men and three women from Mexico, a Guatemalan man and a lawful U.S. resident who served as a pickup crew driver.

The spokesperson added that the migrants were processed for expulsion under Title 42 health grounds.

The panga boat was seized by the Air and Marine Operations Long Beach Marine Unit, and the incident is being investigated by the Los Angeles Border Enforcement Security Taskforce.

The U.S. Border Patrol, CBP’s Office of Field Operations and the Laguna Beach Police Department also responded to the vessel landing after being informed by residents.

“It’s good that residents, when they see this, alert us, alert the police department, so that we can make sure these people are picked up and detained by the border patrol, and the border patrol can take appropriate action,” Laguna Beach Mayor Sue Kempf said in a phone interview Thursday. “It’s becoming not an infrequent occurrence. It’s not something we like to see happening in our town, but we’re thankful that the residents, when they see this, alert us.”

Kempf added that the issues posed by the arrival of panga boats go beyond the smuggling of people and contraband.

Life jackets and 12 gallons of gas were aboard a panga boat that came ashore at Agate Street Beach.
Life jackets and 12 gallons of gas were aboard a panga boat that came ashore at Agate Street Beach with more than a dozen people.
(Courtesy of the city of Laguna Beach)

“They leave the boats there, and the boats end up in the surf, and they get broken up in the rocks,” Kempf said. “That’s one problem. Another problem is when they do that, sometimes they have fuel cans onboard — those wind up in the ocean. It’s an environmental mess, and it’s also just a problem for managing people coming here illegally, trying to run through our town on their way to wherever they’re going.”

Laguna Beach police spokesman Sgt. Cornelius Ashton said officers detained nine individuals at Agate Street and Ocean Way after a resident observed approximately 16 individuals run from a panga boat toward 100 Agate St. He added the same resident saw five individuals get into a parked vehicle at 1300 S. Coast Highway, and officers detained those individuals, too.

Laguna Beach police also requested help from the Newport Beach police and Orange County Sheriff’s departments, as well as the Maritime Coordination Center. U.S. Customs and Border Protection took over the investigation.

An estimated 12 gallons of gas was found aboard the panga boat, and life jackets were recovered along the shoreline, Ashton said.

Real-time video footage, captured by a surf camera pointed toward a spot of Newport Beach’s shoreline near 56th Street and posted to, shows a boat full of people being pulled up onto the sand by an unrecognizable individual. Within seconds, as many as 15 to 20 people are seen exiting the boat and running off camera.

Newport Beach police spokeswoman Heather Rangel confirmed Wednesday the incident happened at around 3 a.m. Sunday near 56th Street.

“There were border patrol [agents] out regarding a panga boat,” Rangel said, indicating Newport Beach police were assisting U.S. Customs and Border Patrol as the lead agency.

Newport Beach experienced an additional panga boat landing this month, Rangel said, that incident occurring at about 7:30 a.m. on May 2 at the Wedge.

Staff writer Sara Cardine contributed to this report.

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