Los Angeles - A drug smuggling boat loaded with roughly a ton of marijuana was found beached on Monday in California near a popular Malibu-area surfing spot, and three people located nearby were detained for questioning, a Los Angeles County sheriff's spokesman said.

The so-called panga boat was found at the Leo Carrillo beach, which is popular among local surfers, and was loaded with bundles of marijuana, said Deputy Joseph Baclawski of the Los Angeles sheriff department's special enforcement bureau.

“It's hard to say for certain the exact weight because the drugs are wrapped, and sealed numerous times, in large bundles,” Baclawski said, adding that authorities were basing the estimate based on visual clues. “Two thousand pounds (about 900kg) is about all these pangas can fit.”

The past four years have seen an upswing in drug arrests along the Southern California coastline involving the deep V-bottom pangas, although it is rare to find a beached boat loaded with drugs on a popular beach during daylight hours, Baclawski said.

“Usually they try and hit much more secluded beaches and at night, so if they made a daytime landing, then something went wrong,” he said. “Either the motor broke or they ran out of food and water.”

Three people were located within 800m of the beached boat and have been detained for questioning, Baclawski said.

In the past two years, agents have apprehended 1 300 people, seized more than 200 vessels and recovered more than 60 000kg of drugs along the coast between the Mexican border and Rancho Palos Verdes, a Border Patrol spokesman said in January.

In 2008, by comparison, 230 people were apprehended and 33 vessels seized, with no drugs recovered, the spokesman said at the time. - Reuters