Four tons of pot found floating off California coast

LOS ANGELES Mon May 21, 2012 4:25pm EDT

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - U.S. authorities have recovered more than four tons of marijuana found bobbing in the Pacific Ocean off the California coast, in one of the largest known seizures of its kind on a maritime smuggling route increasingly used by Mexican drug traffickers.

The U.S. Coast Guard received a call on Sunday from a boater about suspicious bales spotted floating about 12 miles off the coast of Orange County, south of Los Angeles, the U.S. Border Patrol said.

The U.S. Coast Guard, Orange County Sheriff's Department and Border Patrol responded and recovered 180 bales of marijuana weighing 8,068 pounds (3,660 kg).

"This is unusual, you don't usually find a large quantity of marijuana like that," said Jerry Conlin, a spokesman for the San Diego sector of the U.S. Border Patrol.

"There was a search launched immediately after finding such a large quantity to make sure that there wasn't an overturned or a sunken vessel, but none were found."

The California coastal strip has become a common corridor for Mexican smugglers who, trying to beat beefed up security on the land borders, haul marijuana and even illegal immigrants north by sea from Mexico in fishing boats.

While tossing drug loads is common off the Caribbean coast of Central America, where traffickers in fast boats frequently hurl cocaine loads into the sea when challenged by the U.S. Coast Guard, finding such a large load is a rare event in California waters.

"It's not the first time that we have seen marijuana in the ocean. But typically it might be either just to lighten up a load because they are trying to abscond ... or (they leave it) for someone else to pick it up. But to find such a large quantity like this is very rare," Conlin told Reuters.

Along the coast of Central America, fishermen-turned-beach-combers occasionally get rich from finding tossed cocaine loads, which they call "white lobster."

But Conlin said there had been no reports of pot washing up on California beaches. "It's believed that they recovered all the bundles that were out there," he said.

(Writing by Tim Gaynor; editing by Cynthia Johnston and Mohammad Zargham)

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