Byline: Taylor Hill
NEWPORT BEACH — Reportedly for the first time, a human smuggling boat was caught in Newport Harbor, as more than a dozen suspected illegal immigrants were discovered by Orange County Sheriff’s Harbor Patrol deputies aboard an unfamiliar pleasurecraft.
Deputy William Nelson, Dave Martin and Ray Botta were on regular patrol in Newport Harbor when they saw the craft entering the harbor near the “8” marker around 4:38 p.m. Oct. 18.
The officers immediately noticed the boat was low in the water and was either overloaded or taking on water. They approached the vessel, and noticed smoke coming from the engine compartment. Nelson boarded the boat, and discovered 15 suspected illegal immigrants hiding aboard.
Officers called the Border Patrol for assistance, which took over the case.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel interviewed the suspects on Oct. 19 at the Border Patrol station in San Clemente.
According to reports, Nelson said the 15 suspects on board had been at sea for two days without food and little water, crammed in the forward section of the boat. According to officers, the incident marked the first time undocumented immigrants have been found aboard a craft inside Newport Harbor.
While most human waterborne smuggling attempts from Mexico to the United States border have involved small fishing-style panga boats, a recent rise in the use of larger pleasurecraft and sportfishing boats has been seen by Border Patrol agents.
“It is not new, but it is becoming more prevalent,” said Orange County Harbormaster Lt. Tom Slayton when asked about larger pleasureboats involved in smuggling attempts. “It’s just one way that smugglers are attempting to gain illegal access to our coastline.”