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Bust off Calif. coast yields ton of pot

Aug. 25, 2012 at 6:58 PM   |   Comments

SAN DIEGO, Aug. 25 (UPI) -- More than a ton of marijuana with a street value of $1 million was seized off Catalina Island in California, U.S. Customs and Border Protection says.

The agency, in a news release Friday, said seven men were arrested Tuesday as they attempted to transfer the marijuana from a small open fishing boat to a sailboat.

Agents patrolling south of Catalina Island boarded the sailboat about 3 a.m. after they spotted it apparently signalling to another vessel, officials said. A Blackhawk helicopter was dispatched from San Diego to search the area and spotted what was described as a panga-style boat, an open skiff powered by an outboard motor, loaded with bales of what appeared to be drugs.

Customs officials said the boat's cargo turned out to be 130 packages of marijuana weighing almost 2,400 pounds. Sold on the street, it would have brought in more than $1 million, they said.

Three people were arrested on the sailboat and four on the fishing boat. Agents said they found a loaded shotgun, a handgun and night-vision equipment on the sailboat.

"We are beginning to see this as a more common tactic: smugglers attempting to move contraband from open hull panga boats to recreational vessels, such as this sailboat," said Keley Hill, director of marine operations in San Diego. "The smugglers think that when the recreational vessel moves in to shore, it will blend in with legitimate boating traffic off of the Southern California coastline and make it much more difficult for us to detect illegal activity."

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