Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, Ca. – January 5, 2012
Increasing levels of contraband smuggling from Mexican waters have a wide range of inter-jurisdictional law enforcement authorities working overtime to fend off ongoing efforts to bring drugs and illegal immigrants to California’s Central Coast waters.
On January 3rd, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office released a bulletin asking members of the public to report any undocumented vessels approaching the county beaches. Just a day earlier, according to SBSD Public Information Officer Drew Sugars, a “panga” boat was found empty and abandoned just north of Refugio Beach, a popular recreation destination for tourists and locals alike. The boat was first spotted by off-duty Sheriff’s deputies who were traveling southbound on US 101 heading to work. At that time, they notified the Goleta Headquarters Emergency Communications Center of the boat’s location. “Detectives from Intelligence responded,” Sugars informed the media, “and it was confirmed as a panga.”
Panga boats are open vessels capable of transporting a ton of cargo from Mexican points of origin to destinations as far north as San Francisco. With planing hulls capable of speeds in excess of 40 mph, pangas are considered to be extremely seaworthy in the right hands.
Before SBSD detectives could collect evidence from the panga marooned at Refugio Beach, high waves pummeled the boat and destroyed the stern, ripping a pair of outboard motors off and eventually sinking the boat just beyond the surfline. Coast Guard crews responded to salvage fuel tanks and engines, but the vessel itself was a total loss, along with any evidence it may have contained.
“This is a growing problem,” Sugars commented to the press in his request for anyone spotting suspicious watercraft in the area to contact 911 Emergency or the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices at (866) 347-2423 (DHS-2ICE).
While Sugars was making this public appeal, just hours later, at 2:00 a.m. on January 4th, approximately 2500 pounds of baled marijuana and 10 suspects were seized at Ventura County Beach, along with a 27-foot panga and two vehicles which were apparently on site to off-load the bales.
According to Capt. Mike Aranda, Ventura County Sheriff Media Relations Officer, the arrests were the product of high-level coordination among law enforcement and customs agencies. “The boat was first spotted by California National Guardsmen who contacted the U.S. Border Patrol,” Aranda reported when contacted by Crime Voice via telephone. He further indicated that four of those arrested arrived aboard the boat while “the other arrestees were intercepted with their vehicles at the landing area.”
In a Department of Homeland Security media release, Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean commented that he was pleased with the cooperation among federal, state, and local county authorities “to prevent drug trafficking in this county.”
Photos: Courtesy of Santa Barbara County Sheriff Intelligence Unit, Wikipedia
Daily Nexus UCSB: Police Find Smuggling Boat
keyt.com: New Details in the Panga Boat Smuggling Case
keyt.com: Suspected Drug Smugglers Caught
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