Off-duty Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department deputies found a boat likely used for illegal drug smuggling abandoned at sea north of Refugio Beach last Monday and are on the lookout for more.
According to a SBCS Office press release, the craft — a 30-foot, open “panga” boat — was empty, but contained significant evidence that it had been used for transporting narcotics.
According to the Sheriff’s Department, pangas are often used to smuggle drugs and other contraband by sea from Mexico to the United States.
Though they are exposed to the elements and relatively small, usually ranging from 19 to 28 feet in length, pangas can carry loads of up to 2,000 pounds and are increasingly being used to transport contraband.
After the abandoned boat was reported to and inspected by the Sheriff’s Intelligence Unit, a towing ship was summoned from Santa Barbara Harbor. Deputies waited most of the day for the ship’s arrival until strong surf swamped the panga’s heavy outboard motors, causing the rear of the boat to break off, sinking it in 30 to 40 feet of water.
The U.S. Coast Guard retrieved the vessel’s fuel tanks and other debris from the ocean floor, though the boat itself was determined to contain no further value as evidence and remains underwater.
According to the SBCSO, the popularity of panga boats among smugglers is increasingly problematic and the public should not hesitate to contact law enforcement if they notice any suspicious watercraft off the county’s coastline. Concerned citizens may also notify the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s 24-hour toll-free tip line at (866) 347-2423.