SAN DIEGO -- Mexican smugglers are increasingly using Southern California waters to transport drugs and people across the border. On December 2, a panga-style boat rammed into a Coast Guard vessel near the Channel Islands, killing Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne.
Horne was the first law enforcement official to die responding to an apparent smuggling attempt off the California coast.
Chasing and apprehending waterborne smugglers has become an ever-bigger part of the job of patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border.
San Diego waters have seen the greatest number of smuggling events in recent years. More than half of the 210 maritime smuggling events recorded by law enforcement in fiscal year 2012 were off the San Diego coast.
In previous years, nearly all recording smuggling events took place in San Diego waters. But now smugglers are going farther out to sea — sometimes 150 miles offshore — and further up the coast in an attempt to get around law enforcement patrolling San Diego waters.
That’s making the job of catching them more dangerous, said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations in Los Angeles.
“It is a trend with drug smugglers that whenever there’s pressure on them to get their product into the U.S., they get desperate," he said. "And when they get desperate, they’re willing to take risks and be more violent.”
Arnold said smugglers are also carrying more cargo and using larger boats to bring it into the U.S.
The suspected smugglers arrested in connection with Horne’s death told law enforcement officials they were transporting gas to another vessel. Law enforcement officials declined to give further details about the event as it is under investigation.
The two Mexican nationals are scheduled for a preliminary hearing before a judge later this month.