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Eleven Arrested in Panga Bust Near Gaviota

Authorities seize some 3,000 pounds of marijuana in the latest smuggling incident

Eleven people were taken into custody and some 3,000 pounds of marijuana was seized early Wednesday after a panga boat was spotted near Gaviota, according to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.

Personnel from several law-enforcement agencies swarmed the Gaviota area at about 12:15 a.m. after a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter spotted the boat near San Nicholas Island, which was believed to be ferrying drugs from Mexico and headed toward the Gaviota Coast, said sheriff’s Lt. Butch Arnoldi.

An initial round-up netted eight people arrested by 2 a.m., Arnoldi said, including five from Southern California and three from Mexico.

Three more arrests occurred at about 8 a.m., but the nationalities of those suspects were not available.

The panga was found on the shoreline between the Gaviota campground and Hollister Ranch, Arnoldi said.

Sheriff’s deputies and officers from the California Highway Patrol and State Parks searched the coastline near Gaviota State Park and Hollister Ranch in the early-morning hours.

Several suspects were spotted on the shore, according to emergency radio traffic, and at least one was taken into custody with the help of a police canine. He suffered minor injuries and was treated by paramedics at the scene, according to radio traffic.

Homeland Security has taken the lead role in the case, Arnoldi said, and was expected to release more information later in the day. Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) also were involved in the operation.

Panga boats — small, open craft equipped with large engines — have been used increasingly to smuggle in drugs and people, and the Central Coast shoreline has become a popular landing area.

Check back with Noozhawk for updates to this story.

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton 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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