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Border Patrol Agents Arrest 13 Men in Panga Boat Off Gaviota Coast

Federal officials say the vessel was also carrying 5,000 pounds of marijuana

Federal agents discovered a panga boat off the Gaviota Coast early Thursday morning and arrested 13 men, according to Border Patrol agents.

The boat was also carrying 5,000 pounds of marijuana, and public affairs agent Scott Simon said the investigation and suspect interviews were turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations agents in Ventura.

The boat was typical of the many found abandoned along the California coastline — a 30- to 35-foot open watercraft with multiple outboard motors. They’re commonly used by fishermen in developing countries but have become increasingly popular to smuggle contraband to the United States from Mexico.

Different agencies had people patrolling the coast as part of the Regional Coordinating Mechanism, a collaborative effort to combat maritime smuggling, Simon said. Agent Steven Pitts said the boat was spotted coming ashore around 1:30 a.m. between Refugio State Beach and El Capitan State Beach.

Border Patrol agents apprehended the 13 men and 2½ tons of marijuana. Four of the men are U.S. citizens, eight are Mexican citizens and one is a citizen of El Salvador, Pitts added.

Authorities are still unsure if the boat came from Mexico or Southern California.

Sheriff Bill Brown and Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, held a meeting with the U.S. Coast Guard and Homeland Security earlier this month to share information and tactics, asking for federal help with the problem.

Brown said 16 boats had been found ashore within the last year. Most of them have been abandoned, but had evidence of carrying contraband.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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