'Super panga,' marijuana bales found on beach at Estero Bluffs

Large craft and up to 4,000 pounds of marijuana were left on the beach north of Cayucos

mfountain@thetribunenews.comJanuary 15, 2014 

Sheriff’s deputies are investigating the discovery Wednesday morning of a large panga boat and an estimated 3,500 to 4,000 pounds of marijuana stacked in bales on the beach at Estero Bluffs State Park, north of Cayucos and west of Highway 1.

As of Wednesday evening, no arrests had been made, and authorities were continuing to search for suspects.

The county Sheriff’s Office received a call at 7:20 a.m. from the U.S. Coast Guard, which reported seeing what appeared to be a large panga boat offshore of Morro Bay, heading north.

In response, deputies from the sheriff’s Special Operations Unit were dispatched to investigate.

At 8:20 a.m., someone called to report a panga boat on the beach at Estero Bluffs.

Unlike recent drug- and human-running skiffs found on local beaches in the past two years, the vessel discovered is more than 45 feet in length, is fitted with two 350-horsepower outboard motors and is informally known to law enforcement as a “super
panga.”

It took about 20 officers from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, State Parks and the Sheriff’s Office to battle the outgoing tide and wrestle the beached vessel into water deep enough to be driven to the Morro Bay Harbor.

Undersheriff Tim Olivas, who was pulling the massive vessel in knee-deep surf with the rest of the officers, said a street value for the catch won’t be known until authorities assess its quality.

Olivas said it appeared the panga operators were interrupted during the offload given the amount of marijuana abandoned on the beach. Marijuana was packed inside large white bags that read “Salvado,” or “bran.” Seven barrels of
fuel were also pulled from the boat.

“At this point, we do not know if this was an accidental landing, but given the history of these landings here in recent history, my guess is it probably wasn’t accidental,” he said.

The boat itself is relatively expensive; including the two engines, Olivas estimated the panga to be worth up to $40,000.

“It’s a big, fast vessel,” Olivas said. “These are not cheap engines.”

Olivas added that the Sheriff’s Office is working closely with federal agencies to continue to monitor the local coastline for drug runners, thought to originate from northern Mexico. Though the boats have for years been discovered in Southern California, they have been traveling farther north up the California coast. This is the 11th known to land in San Luis Obispo County since the first occurred in May 2012.

“We’re realizing this coastline really is the border, as far as these boats are concerned,” Olivas said.

The Wednesday morning incident marks the first panga boat discovered in 2014; in 2013, six pangas ran ashore locally, most recently in December.

The super panga was driven by two  Fish and Wildlife officers to the Morro Bay Harbor, where it will be processed and later taken to the Sheriff’s Office headquarters in San Luis Obispo.

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