Testing New, Expensive Toys

U.S. border agents may soon have faster boats with long-range infrared cameras to find smugglers ferrying people and drugs into the country.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection showed off a prototype vessel Monday in San Diego that it hopes will aid agents during high-speed pursuits. Agents got the chance to test out the equipment and will provide feedback on the new tools before replacement boats are ordered.

The $875,000 speedboat is faster, more stable and carries more fuel than the agency's current craft.

It also comes with infrared cameras that give detailed images as far as the horizon goes. Currently, agents often use goggles, which can see only as far as the naked eye.

The shock-mitigated seats absorb some of the impact that can be felt in a heavy sea state. Agents can drive the boat faster and in heavier sea states so they’re not as fatigued.

”The name of the game in the interdiction business is to get to the target as quickly as you can to make a determination on what action you’re going to take,” said Tom Norton

“Whether it’s just a routine boarding and interview or it’s a vessel that’s not going to comply with your instructions and now you’re into a chase scenario so the quicker you can get to it, the better off you are,“ Norton said.

CBP hopes to get funding to replace its fleet of about 65 vessels for high-speed chases.

The chance to test the equipment before the big buy, is a great opportunity for agents. “Typically, when you buy new equipment you can’t test it out,” said Norton. “It gives you a chance to do it right. At the end of the day, they will at least have had buy in. They will have participated in the process.”

Authorities say heightened enforcement on land borders has fueled an increase in human smuggling by sea, particularly in the San Diego area.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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