Authorities on Sunday intercepted a suspected smuggling boat off Newport Beach that tried to land on a busy stretch of Huntington Beach about two miles down the coast from the U.S. Open of Surfing.
Lifeguards spotted the panga, a simple fishing vessel with an outboard motor, trying to come ashore at Huntington State Beach near Magnolia Street at about 8:30 a.m. Sunday, said Orange County Sheriff's Sgt. John Hollenbeck of the Newport Harbor patrol.
When the three men aboard noticed they were being watched, they steered the vessel back to sea, and lifeguards saw them throw a package overboard.
Orange County sheriff's boats chased the vessel to about one mile off the Newport Pier, where they stopped it at gunpoint and arrested three Mexican nationals on suspicion of smuggling and attempting to enter the United States illegally, Hollenbeck said.
The suspects and the boat were taken to Newport Harbor, where U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents took the men into custody.
Smugglers increasingly have been ferrying illegal immigrants, and sometimes drugs, by sea to Southern California in an effort to evade dragnets near the San Diego-Mexico border. In recent months immigration officials have discovered two or three smuggling operations a week from Orange County north, including boats of immigrants captured coming ashore at Crystal Cove State Park, Malibu and Santa Cruz Island.
"They usually come ashore at night, for obvious reasons," Hollenbeck said.