Authorities detain 15 illegal immigrants at Crystal Cove

A panga boat carrying 15 illegal immigrants flipped in heavy surf along Crystal Cove early Tuesday morning and ejected all the occupants, federal immigration authorities said.

All but two aboard were detained and there were no serious injuries or deaths, officials said.

The incident was reported around 5 a.m., said Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The nationalities of those detained were not immediately available because they were still being questioned by federal agents, Kice said. A search of the area did not turn up the boat's other two occupants, who authorities believe fled the scene.

The incident comes a day after 15 immigrants from Mexico were rescued from Santa Cruz Island, where authorities said they were believed to have been abandoned by a smuggler.

Kice noted that the boats being used by the new breed of maritime smugglers are not designed for lengthy, deep-water trips, and as a consequence were putting illegal immigrants in peril.

"In recent weeks we've had multiple instances where smuggled aliens have been ejected from these boats, suffering fairly significant injuries," Kice said.

A March 24 story in The Times detailed how the battle over illegal immigration has shifted to the California coast in response to stricter enforcement on land routes along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Last year, 867 illegal immigrants and smugglers were arrested at sea or along the California coast — more than double the number in 2009. Most landings occurred on San Diego-area beaches but also were reported in Orange County, including near the San Onofre nuclear power plant and Crystal Cove.

Those engaging in human trafficking have also been smuggling drugs, which has led to discoveries of vessels on Santa Catalina Island and Santa Rosa Island, off the Santa Barbara coast. Smuggling groups have also resorted to posting lookouts to watch for agents and direct boats to unmonitored areas.

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