Fishing Boat Operator Sentenced for Human Smuggling, Ramming Coast Guard Vessel

Image: U.S. Coast Guard.

A man who was piloting a panga boat has been sentenced to prison following a December incident where he intentionally rammed a Coast Guard vessel while smuggling nearly a dozen migrants in the San Diego area.

Jesus Alcaraz-Valdez was sentenced in federal court on July 12 to 60 months in prison for bringing in nearly a dozen undocumented migrants for financial gain and ramming a Coast Guard vessel in an attempt to escape law enforcement.

During the early morning hours of Dec.17, Alcaraz shuttled the undocumented migrants from Mexico across the maritime boundary line to the vicinity of the Hotel Del Coronado in Coronado, California, west of San Diego. Before reaching shore, Alcaraz instructed the passengers to remove lifejackets and enter waist-deep surf, even though some couldn’t swim.

The U.S. Coast Guard Joint Harbor Operations Center observed Alcaraz complete the drop-off near Coronado and return to sea on a southerly course toward Mexico. A Coast Guard vessel patrolling in the area attempted to compel Alcaraz, the sole operator of the lights-out, panga-style vessel operating at 30-40 knots, to stop. 

According to the Coast Guard, Alcaraz repeatedly ignored the orders and he eventually increased speed and steered directly toward the Coast Guard vessel, ramming it twice with his vessel’s bow.

The first ram hit the middle of the Coast Guard vessel, while the second caused the forward starboard window of the vessel to shatter and nearly hit a Coast Guard officer positioned in the co-pilot’s seat.

After the ramming, the Coast Guard fired two shots into the panga’s outboard engine, disabling it. All four law enforcement officers on board sustained minor neck and back injuries as a result of the collision and were treated by medical personnel once ashore.

Eight passengers from the panga boat were apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol agents, while four fled, authorities have said.

At the sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge Jinsook Ohta described Alcaraz’s actions as “extremely reckless and extremely troubling” and emphasized the danger to human life.

Alcaraz was indicted in January. He pleaded guilty to 12 counts in March.