Several suspected illegal immigrants were arrested early Monday after a panga landed ashore in San Diego, Calif.
Federal officials arrested a dozen Mexican nationals early Monday after a small fishing boat landed ashore on a popular stretch of beach in San Diego, Calif.
Customs and Border Protection spokesman Ralph DeSio told msnbc.com that 12 men, all suspected of attempting to gain illegal entry into the U.S., were arrested after the boat, called a panga, was spotted about 1:30 a.m. in Ocean Beach.
Witnesses told U.S. Border Patrol agents in San Diego that several people scrambled out of the boat, with most heading toward the shopping area of the Ocean Beach neighborhood.
"It was the weirdest thing I've ever seen,” Taylor McDonald told NBCSanDiego.com. “There was like a bunch of them... [They] walked straight up toward the bars and stuff like nothing was wrong."
The number of maritime smuggling incidents along California's coast has increased over the years, DeSio said, adding that smugglers have turned to the Pacific Ocean to evade beefed up security along the U.S.-Mexican border.
It took authorities about 30 minutes to round up suspects, relying on a team of San Diego lifeguards, police officers and border patrol agents. A police helicopter searched from above to gather others who mighthave cut loose from the boat, according to NBCSanDiego.com.
"The police officers told them to stop but none of them really stopped, they kind of just got tackled,” witness Tyler Russo told NBCSanDiego.com.
At one point officers had several suspects on their stomachs in the sand. Some were photographed wearing baseball caps, sweatshirts and jackets.
Authorities towed the boat and the case is still under investigation, DeSio said.
While authorities didn’t find drugs from this panga incident, smugglers often use the open fishing boats to bring people and narcotics into the U.S. from Mexico, DeSio said.
In the five coastal counties between San Diego and Santa Barbara, U.S. immigration officials recorded over 180 such cases in 2011, compared with 121 in 2010, a more than 50 percent jump, according to an analysis of data provided to NBCLosAngeles.com.
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