Wednesday, September 20 , 2017, 10:25 am | Partly Cloudy 68º


Captain’s Log: Illegal Smugglers a Problem, But Not All Local Pangas Are Bad

Much has been said and written this week about the loss of a Coast Guardsman and the injury of another as they went in harm’s way in the line of duty. All I can add is that I hold those men in high honor and esteem. I appreciate and respect what they went through, how they lived by their sense of duty, and that they were protecting our shores and our people.

Many of us work at sea, and we accept the risks that go along with it. Those risks include wild and unpredictable weather events, rogue waves, collision, fatal interaction with critters, and sinking. But those Coast Guardsmen accepted way beyond the normal risks of working at sea in the line of duty, investigating a panga, when the desperado running the vessel thought he could ram the small Coast Guard vessel and perhaps get away.

Our resources are very well equipped and incredibly well trained, drilled and disciplined. The suspects were apprehended.

We have a bigger smuggler problem around the Channel Islands than most folks realize. Pangas, loaded with fuel, drugs and/or illegal immigrants and illegal weapons, find it appealing to make a long but fast run up from Mexican waters, hide out around the Channel Islands and wait for the cover of darkness to run for the shore to unload their cargo and abandon the panga.

I and many people I know have seen suspicious pangas at sea. It is best to avoid them and report them. I know someone who approached what appeared to be an abandoned panga in his own vessel. As he approached the panga, several guys suddenly stood up in the panga and leveled what appeared to be assault rifles at the approaching boat, which then veered away and sped off.

Pangas are good choices for this type of illegal and dangerous work because they are long, low, fast and relatively seaworthy. I have fished from panga fishing boats in Baja many times and found them to be very utilitarian craft.

But listen, not all local pangas are bad pangas. We have local recreational and commercial fishers who use these vessels. These are good folks, so please do not assume the worst when you see a panga. It may be one of our own local fisherfolk.

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit to learn more about the organization and how you can help.

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