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Another Abandoned Panga Found Near Refugio Beach

Officials say they aren’t sure whether the boat was used for drug smuggling or human trafficking

Another abandoned panga was discovered Monday north of Refugio State Beach, but officials say they aren’t sure whether the boat was used for drug smuggling or human trafficking.

Just before 7 a.m. on Monday, an off-duty sheriff’s deputy observed the panga on the shoreline at Tajiguas Beach, north of Refugio State Beach, according to Kelly Hoover, spokeswoman for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office.

Patrol deputies, along with narcotics investigators, responded and located a single-engine, 25-foot boat on the beach. 

Investigators found items of potential evidence inside and strewn about the surrounding beach, including numerous fuel containers, clothing and other miscellaneous trash type items, Hoover said, adding that “investigators were unable to immediately determine if this boat was used to smuggle drugs, or if it was used to facilitate human trafficking.”

Law enforcement say pangas — small open watercraft with one or more outboard motors — have become increasingly popular with smugglers transporting immigrants illegally, narcotics and other contraband to the United States from Mexico.

The boat found Monday is the third of its kind discovered off Refugio State Beach in recent months. In March, an abandoned Panga was found and 50 plastic-wrapped bales of marijuana, valued at $4 million, were discovered partially hidden in the bushes nearby.

Between 2012 and 2013, more than 20 pangas have landed on the Santa Barbara County coastline, Hoover said.

Representatives from California State Parks, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the U.S. Coast Guard also responded Monday to the scene and investigators removed the boat and debris.

The Sheriff’s Department is working with Homeland Security to investigate the increase of panga activity in the area, Hoover said, and the public is asked to contact law enforcement immediately to report suspicious boats in the ocean off Santa Barbara County or suspicious activity on Highway 101 where there is coastal access.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper 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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