Abandoned panga found on Cayucos beach

Empty boat appeared to have been used to transport drugs

newsroom@thetribunenews.comOctober 5, 2013 

For the eighth time in 18 months, a panga boat that apparently was used to smuggle drugs has been abandoned on a San Luis Obispo County beach.

This time, a fixed-wing California Highway Patrol aircraft made the discovery at about 9:24 a.m. on a beach about 1.5 miles north of the Cayucos pier, according to the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department.

Cal Fire, State Park rangers, and sheriff’s patrol and detective personnel responded and took the 45-foot open boat to Morro Bay for further investigation. No drugs were found but evidence pointed to the boat being used to move narcotics, according to a news release. Fifteen fuel containers were found on the boat.

Since May 2012, eight pangas – open boats used for fishing in Mexico – have found their way to the county shoreline as smugglers apparently extend their routes for moving contraband.

In recent years as onshore border security has tightened, smugglers have increasingly employed pangas to smuggle people and drugs up the California coastline. While the boats most often have been found in Southern California and up to Santa Barbara, the trend has spread to the Central Coast.

“All the other counties are getting hit, so I suppose it’s just a matter of time before they moved up here,” said Sheriff’s Sgt. Andy Rasmussen, the watch commander on Saturday.

The last panga was found abandoned on Sept. 10 on the beach near the San Simeon State Park Campground and contained one 30-pound package of marijuana. Sheriff’s investigators believed that several thousand pounds of marijuana was offloaded during the night or early morning.

On July 14, deputies and State Parks rangers found an abandoned panga on the beach north of Piedras Blancas Lighthouse that appeared to have had some type of cargo unloaded.

On May 29, 14 adults and one juvenile were arrested after a panga was found on the beach at Montana de Oro State Park. Authorities discovered 53 bales of marijuana on the boat weighing a total of about 1,900 pounds with a street value of about $1.3 million. Thirteen adults later pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transport marijuana; the 14th adult failed to show up in court.

On Nov. 27, 2012, three men were arrested in connection with a panga found about four miles north of the Piedras Blancas Light Station. No drugs were found in the boat but 34 fuel containers were discovered in the water nearby.

On Oct. 19, 2012, an abandoned panga with no drugs on board was found less than a mile north of Piedras Blancas. Six gasoline containers were found with the boat.

On Sept. 6, 2012, 20 suspects were detained after a panga was found on a remote beach south of Ragged Point, near San Carpoforo Creek Road. Authorities set up roadblocks after witnesses said they saw marijuana being loaded into vehicles. Forty-three bales of marijuana totaling more than 3,000 pounds were found in a motorhome and sedan.

The first panga found along the county coastline was on May 24, 2012, when an abandoned panga was discovered about two miles north of the lighthouse, containing 1,800 pounds of marijuana in 100-pound bales.

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