Are the beautiful Channel Islands, which are so popular among hikers, campers and fishermen, being used by Mexican drug cartels to help deliver their product to the United States?
Or was Saturday's major pot discovery and arrest of four Mexican citizens merely the result of a delivery gone wrong?
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency today issued a news release detailing a coordinated bust involving the arrest and seizure of more than a ton of marijuana that had been concealed in bales stashed in vegetation on Santa Rosa Island, about 35 miles west of Santa Barbara.
Suspicions were aroused late last Thursday night, when the crew of a U.S. Navy helicopter sighted a panga traveling northbound 46 miles west of San Diego's Point Loma. These stealthy Mexican skiffs are commonly used to smuggle drugs and aliens.
A multi-agency search ensued and on Saturday afternoon agents from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, discovered fuel canisters and wreckage from the panga on Santa Rosa Island.
The helicopter the agents were aboard landed and they discovered, in a canyon near the wreckage site, 46 bundles of marijuana weighing 2,448 pounds. They also found four adult Mexican males hiding in the brush.
What remains unclear is whether the island was a dropping point or whether boat trouble forced the smugglers ashore on Santa Rosa Island, which is part of Channel Islands National Park and within Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.
Whatever the case, the more remote islands will likely fall under increased scrutiny because of this incident.
-- Pete Thomas
Photo of pot bales concealed in vegetation on Santa Rosa Island courtesy of U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency