Santa Barbara County has more than 100 miles of shoreline, a fact capitalized on by Mexican smugglers transporting drugs and illegal immigrants via boat, and county and federal officials met Thursday near the Santa Barbara Harbor to brainstorm how to best curb that activity.
Numerous “panga boats” believed used by the smugglers have been found up and down the entire coast of California. Pangas are a type of fishing vessel with several outboard motors used in countries such as Mexico.
The boats can travel at high speeds on the open ocean, and have been found as far north as San Francisco. They are well suited to smugglers trying to bring drugs and people to shore undetected.
Sixteen boats have been found ashore in the county over the past year, according to Sheriff Bill Brown, who spoke with reporters before the meeting.
That increase prompted Brown to reach out for federal help from Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara. Capps organized Thursday’s briefing with officials, and said she’ll be going back to Washington, D.C., to request the funding needed to deal with the smugglers.
“We have major concerns about public safety,” Brown told reporters.
Thursday’s meeting was held to coordinate with officials from federal agencies like the U.S. Coast Guard and the Homeland Security Department, and reporters were not allowed behind closed doors. But Brown said the groups were meeting to further “cement tactics” and share information.
In an April letter to Capps’ office, Brown requested federal help to address the problem, which he said is siphoning time and resources from the Sheriff’s Department. In addition to drugs and illegal aliens, Brown expressed concern that weapons and terrorists also could enter the country the same way.
In April, a “super panga” that had four outboard motors was discovered on local shores, said Brown, who noted that the vessel would have been fast enough to outrun the boat operated by the Sheriff’s Department. Law enforcement discovered the abandoned boat and estimated that it had been used to smuggle several tons of marijuana.