Navy and Coast Guard helicopters and vessels chased a 38-foot “super panga” powered by triple 200-hp Yamaha outboards nearly 400 miles before capturing three suspected drug smugglers off San Diego.
The Coast Guard says the suspects reached speeds of as much as 40 mph as they threw bales of marijuana overboard. Infrared video taken by the Coast Guard shows the June 5 pursuit and apprehension 90 miles southwest of San Diego, which netted about 50 bales weighing in at 1,200 pounds.
Click play for a news report, including footage of the chase.Click here for a look at the panga.
A Coast Guard C-130 aircraft on routine patrol initially spotted the suspicious boat near the Channel Islands. When the suspects were detected, they attempted to flee toward the Mexican border.
Two Coast Guard cutters and a 45-foot interceptor boat, a Coast Guard helicopter, a Navy vessel with a Coast Guard law enforcement team and a Navy helicopter in the region were alerted and assisted in pursuing the suspects for several hours, according to the Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard interceptor crew eventually maneuvered behind the panga and was preparing to shoot out its engines when the suspects throttled down and raised their hands to surrender.
In addition to triple engines, the panga had two large fuel tanks and two large storage compartments, where the bales were stowed. Jugs of fuel and oil littered the deck.
“This boat was hand-made. It looks like it was designed to smuggle drugs,” Lt. David McCarthy, of Coast Guard Sector San Diego, told NBC 7 News.
Since 2011, federal agencies in Southern California have seen an increase in drug smugglers over water, rather than land.
The amount of drugs intercepted between San Diego and Morro Bay increased fivefold in 2012, said Capt. Sean Mahoney, commander of Sector San Diego, in a report by the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Joint agency counter-smuggling operations seized or disrupted more than 120,045 pounds of marijuana at sea in 2012 and more than 60,000 pounds so far this year from the U.S.-Mexico maritime border to points as far north as Morro Bay.
The same forces rescued or apprehended 877 suspected illegal immigrants at sea in 2012 and more than 200 so far this year, according to the Coast Guard.