Special to the PRESS
Mexican national Pedro Morales-Hidalgo, 43, has pleaded guilty to failing to heave to a Coast Guard vessel, United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced along with Rear Admiral Roy Nash, Commander, Eighth Coast Guard District.
“Vessel operators failing to ‘heave to’ for an at-sea boarding put themselves and nearby vessels at great risk, including innocent mariners and law enforcement officers,” said Nash. “We take this crime very seriously, and we will continue to work with our partner agencies to ensure that those who violate this law are held responsible for their actions.”
On Oct. 11, 2012, a crew aboard a U.S. Coast Guard vessel observed a Mexican fishing vessel within United States territorial waters, approximately .4 nautical miles north of the Mexican border and 4.5 nautical miles offshore. Morales-Hidalgo was the captain of the vessel.
As the Coast Guard approached, the fishing vessel sped off towards the Mexican border. The Coast Guard pursued the fishing vessel and used a loud hailer to give commands in English and Spanish ordering Morales-Hidalgo to stop his vessel. The Coast Guard also used lights, sirens, hand signals and flash bang grenades to direct Morales-Hidalgo to stop, but he refused. During the pursuit, Morales-Hidalgo made several “corkscrew” maneuvers in an attempt to escape and used his vessel to ram the Coast Guard in an attempt to disable its outboard engines. The Coast Guard was finally able to stop the fishing vessel by pulling its fuel line.
Morales-Hidalgo admitted he heard the directives to stop but failed to do so because he had been fishing illegally in the United States and knew that his boat and catch would be seized as a result.
U.S. District Judge Hilda G. Tagle, who accepted the guilty plea, has set sentencing for March 27, 2013, at which time Morales-Hidalgo faces a maximum prison term of five years and/or a fine of up to $250,000. While given a bond, Morales-Hidalgo has remained in custody since his arrest.
The case was investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Israel Cano III.
Read this story in the Jan. 10 edition of the Port Isabel-South Padre Press, or subscribe to our E-Edition by clicking here.