Panga boat filled with marijuana found abandoned near Piedras Blancas

Panga boat loaded with 1,800 pounds of pot is the first sign of seaborne drug smuggling on SLO County's coast

clambert@thetribunenews.comMay 24, 2012 

A San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office Humvee pulls an abandoned boat over a bluff about two miles north of the Piedras Blancas lighthouse on Thursday. Officials said they found marijuana on the boat.

BERT ETLING

An abandoned 35-foot boat full of about 1,800 pounds of marijuana was found on the coast two miles north of Piedras Blancas on Thursday, marking the first evidence of drug smuggling in the waters along the San Luis Obispo County coast, local officials said.

San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office officials removed 18 to 22 packaged bales of marijuana, each believed to weigh about 100 pounds, as well as fuel from the panga boat.

The marijuana bales are not as large as alfalfa bales, according to Sgt. Dave Lipanovich, who said they were “about as big as a big bag of dog food.”

State Fish and Game officials discovered the boat Thursday and reported their find to State Parks rangers, who called the Sheriff’s Office about 10:30 a.m.

Panga boats are small, motorized open-top fishing craft that are able to travel at high speeds.

According to news reports, such boats have increasingly been used to transport people and drugs from Mexico to the U.S. Boats have been discovered abandoned in neighboring counties, including Santa Barbara County, and numerous arrests have been made throughout Southern California.

Thursday’s seizure was the first of its kind in San Luis Obispo County, sheriff’s spokesman Aaron Nix said.

It’s unknown how many people were on the boat, what time they abandoned it or what their ultimate destination might have been. Numerous footprints could be seen around the boat, Nix said.

Investigators with the Sheriff’s Narcotics and Special Operations Unit responded to the location and removed the marijuana, two high-power outboard motors, three partially full barrels of engine fuel and forensic evidence. The marijuana’s dollar value was not released.

“It looked like (the person or persons who had been on the boat) were trying to hike out,” Sheriff Ian Parkinson told The Tribune as he was leaving the site. “Maybe they had engine trouble, then got spooked off.”

The area had also been under gale warnings. The peak wind gust Thursday afternoon was 44 mph, according to an automated weather station at Piedras Blancas.

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