UPDATE, JULY 15, 4:17:
Four of the fourteen Mexican nationals who were onboard the panga boat that capsized near Newport Tuesday have been charged as criminals -- three for "conspiring to bring illegal aliens to the United States" and the other for illegal entry.
The three alleged conspirators -- Ezequial Mendez-Garcia, David Moises Valderama-Acuna and Trididad Valderama-Acuna --
were the boat's captain, assistant captain and navigator, in that order, according to an ICE news release.
The fourth Mexican national that wound up in a federal court Wednesday afternoon was Israel Septimo-Rubio. Officials decided to prosecute Septimo-Rubio because investigators say he was arrested less than two weeks before Tuesday's crash when another smuggling boat showed up at an Orange County beach.
Four Californians -- Justin Wilterding, of Laguna Niguel, David Rex Wilterding, of San Ysidro, Octavio Ruiz-Toledo, of Corona and Armando Aranjo-Larios, of El Monte -- all had initial court appearances this week, too, for their alleged involvement in a separate maritime drug smuggling incident.
They allegedly have ties to the 23-foot private pleasure boat that customs officers found off the coast of Dana Point in early June. The boat was laden with 500 pounds of pot in secret compartments, the news release says.
ORIGINAL POST, JULY 14, 3:17 P.M.:A panga boat carrying 14 suspected illegal immigrants from Mexico capsized near the shoreline at the Crystal Cove State Park Tuesday night.
Customs officials say this is just one example of the active maritime human and drug smuggling happening along Orange County's coastline. The boat, which traveled "under the cover of darkness," hit some rough surf as it headed near the beach and then capsized, says Claude Arnold, a special agent in charge for ICE Homeland Security investigations.
Although Arnold says he hasn't heard of any deaths from botched human-smuggling attempts, he says officials worry about the method's safety, something he thinks the smugglers ignore.
"It's like they do for road smuggling in a van, they fill to capacity. They're not concerned about safety. They're illicit businessmen," Arnold says of the smugglers.
Of the 14 people onboard the panga boat that capsized Tuesday, Arnold says he thinks the captain, the assistant captain and the navigator will all be charged with crimes.
The 18- to-20-foot-long wooden boats, which are usually outfitted with one, two or three motors, often depart from Ensenada or another nearby Mexican fishing village and head between 50 and 100 miles offshore before heading north, Arnolds says.
The boats often end up in Orange County, or even as far north as Santa Barbara, as they deliberately avoid the plethora of surveillance in San Diego.
Arnold says officials see signs of two to three maritime smuggling attempts per week between the northern part of Orange County and Santa Barbara.
He attributes the prevalence of alternative smuggling approaches--like on boats, through tunnels or in ultralight airplanes--to the "tightening of the ports and in between the ports with Border Patrol."
A Los Angeles Times story by
Sam Quinones and
Andrew Blankstein about the incident Tuesday night reports that in the last year the U.S. Attorney's office in Orange County has brought charges to 17 people involved in maritime smuggling.