Panga Boat Smugglers Showing Up More On Central Coast
SANTA BARBARA – Panga boats are showing up more on the Central Coast bringing in illegal drugs and trafficking people in to the country from Mexico.
Panga boats are commonly used by fishermen in developing countries but for smugglers, the boats have become the vessel of choice to bring in drugs and people to the United States.
From October 2011 to April 2012, 113 panga boats have been found or captured from San Diego to Santa Barbara County. And more of them are making their way to the Central Coast.
"As a whole we aren't seeing a jump in the numbers of attempted drug and human smuggling operations, what we're seeing is a shift in the location," said Petty Officer Adam Eggers, U.S. Coast Guard.
Petty Officer Eggers said the reason for that is due to the success of law enforcement along the Mexico border which is making smugglers change their tactics.
"The tactic they've shifted to is moving farther up the coast in an effort to still try to get their cargo ashore," he explained.
Some of that cargo was confiscated on Friday when a panga boat with 1,400 lbs. of marijuana was being off-loaded at El Capitan State Beach. The street value is estimated to be around $4.2 million.
Because the smugglers are moving north, the Coast Guard and other law enforcement agencies are working together to keep the Central Coast safe. The amount of patrols is the same, but there is more sharing of information between agencies.
Petty Officer Eggers said it's like a game of cat and mouse.
"In the past it has been the federal government and law enforcement agencies were having to play catch up to match what the smugglers were doing in an attempt to thwart their attempts," he said. "Now we're seeing where smugglers are having to change to what we're doing and that's something as a law enforcement entity you want."
All of the six suspects in Friday's panga boat bust along El Capitan were arrested for transportation and possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute. They were booked at the Santa Barbara County Jail.
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