Dramatic Drug Boat Chase Off Coast Of Oceanside Ends In Arrests

A panga carrying methamphetamine repeatedly rammed customs and coast guard boats in a failed bid to escape.

By Kat Schuster, Patch Staff
Aug 11, 2020 11:51 am PT|Updated Aug 11, 2020 12:22 pm PT

  • U.S. marine crews seize over 528 pounds of methamphetamine and 941 pounds of marijuana from suspicious vessels off the coast of San Diego, California. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection)
  • Six are in custody after the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Air and Marine Operations and U.S. Coast Guard raid two drug hauling boats off the coast of San Diego, California.​ (U.S. Customs and Border Protection)
  • An aggressive pursuit to catch one vessel and the discovery of another suspicious vessel in San Diego, California results in six arrests. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

OCEANSIDE, CA — Authorities recovered nearly 1,500 pounds of drugs from a pair of smuggling boats Saturday, following a chase that involved gunfire and efforts to ram U.S. Coast Guard and Customs boats.

In the end, six people were arrested and likely millions of dollars in drugs were confiscated in two separate incidents in less than 24 hours, according to officials.

The first incident began shortly after midnight Saturday when a panga-style boat traveling north off the coast was discovered by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations aircraft. An hour later, the U.S. Coast Guard's Cutter Forrest Rednour crews confirmed the panga had no navigation lights and launched a small boat to intercept the suspicious boat, officials said.

The boat rammed the Coast Guard's small vessel, and Customs and Border Protection boat crew joined the chase, according to authorities. The suspects allegedly made several attempts to hit the AMO vessel as well, eventually striking it.

Crews ordered the suspects to stop and fired warning shots, also deploying several disabling rounds into the boat's engine, finally halting the boat, 12 miles west of Oceanside, according to the Coast Guard. Four were arrested with 528 pounds of methamphetamine, officials said.

"Confronting smugglers in the maritime environment is extremely dangerous," said Timothy Sutherland, AMO San Diego Air and Marine Brach, in a press release.

"This case demonstrates how by failing to heave to the vessels' crew orders, the subjects had no regard for the safety of AMO agents and USCG officers."