California sea smuggling claims Coast Guard life

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 3, 2012 at 7:51 pm •  Published: December 3, 2012
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Attorneys for both men did not immediately respond to phone messages seeking comment. A judge scheduled a preliminary hearing Dec. 17.

In growing numbers, smugglers are turning to California seas to bring people and drugs to the United States from Mexico. The number of Border Patrol agents on land has doubled in the past eight years and hundreds of miles of fences and other barriers have been erected, driving smugglers to the Pacific Ocean.

U.S. authorities spotted 210 suspected smuggling vessels on California shores during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, up 15 percent from 183 incidents the previous year and more than quadruple the 45 incidents in 2008.

More than half the sightings are still in San Diego County, bordering Mexico, but boats are turning up as far north as San Luis Obispo County on California's central coast. According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, there were 14 incidents in Los Angeles County last year, seven in Ventura County and 11 in Santa Barbara County.

Migrants pay thousands of dollars to launch from beaches and small fishing villages south of Tijuana, Mexico. They typically use old, single-engine wooden fishing skiffs known as "pangas."

In one typical case in October, a Mexican woman told authorities she agreed to pay $12,000. A criminal complaint says she was among 16 people — all but one a suspected illegal immigrant from Mexico — found in a 31-foot vessel that appeared to be taking water in the Newport Beach harbor.

In September, authorities seized 3,475 pounds of marijuana from a boat that landed near Hearst Castle on the central coast.

The Halibut's commanding officer, Lt. Stewart Sibert, said Monday he and his crew were devastated by the loss of Horne, calling the Redondo Beach man the best shipmate he ever knew.

"He was my friend, he was my confidante, he was the glue that held my crew together," Sibert said, choking back tears at a news conference. "He gave me advice more times than I could count."

Just a few months ago, Horne helped save the lives of three people on a sailboat that was struggling against darkness and howling winds near the Channel Islands.

"Our fallen shipmate stood the watch on the front lines protecting our nation, and we are all indebted to him for his service and sacrifice," said Admiral Robert J. Papp, Coast Guard commandant.

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Associated Press writer Robert Jablon in Los Angeles contributed to this report.