'Super panga' carried a record 4,440 pounds of marijuana valued at up to $8 million

jlavelle@thetribunenews.comJanuary 16, 2014 

A 45-foot panga found Wednesday on the Estero Bluffs beach near Cayucos was the biggest boat — with the largest engines, most sophisticated communications equipment and carrying the most marijuana — found since smugglers’ boats began showing up along the San Luis Obispo County coastline nearly two years ago, authorities said.

An unprecedented 4,440 pounds of marijuana with an estimated street value of $6 million to $8 million was found abandoned on the boat and stacked onshore, said Tony Cipolla, spokesman for the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office.

The boat was the 11th panga found since May 2012 along the county shoreline from Montaña de Oro to Ragged Point. But this boat seemed to indicate a new level of sophistication for the smuggling operations, which federal officials have said they believe are masterminded by the powerful Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico.

“I think that what you’re seeing is that (smugglers) are devoting more and bigger and better resources to get narcotics up our way,” Cipolla said. The boat, dubbed a “super panga” for its size, was equipped with two powerful 350-horsepower, V-8 outboard motors and seven barrels still filled with fuel.

As of Thursday evening, no arrests had been made.

The panga reportedly was first sighted offshore by the Coast Guard early Wednesday before someone walking on the beach came across it and reported it to authorities about 8:20 a.m.

On Wednesday, Undersheriff Tim Olivas said it appeared the smugglers were interrupted while unloading the marijuana, which was packed inside large white bags that read “Salvado,” or “bran.”

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