Panga boats arrive with their cargo of marijuana

Panga boats have become the newest arrival on California beaches, albeit unwanted by law enforcement. They arrive with their cargo of drugs, mostly from Mexico, to be delivered under the cover of darkness and ultimately distributed throughout the state and elsewhere.

The panga boat’s shape with its wide, flat bottom allows the boat to ride buoyantly with a heavy load, like the 4 or 5 tons of marijuana plus a dozen people on a typical run. Though not suited for heavy seas, a panga boat navigates easily in shallow waters and can be run right up onto a beach for off-loading. A panga sits low in the water with sides usually painted blue, making it hard to spot in open waters.

Starting in Mexico, a loaded panga boat heads directly out to sea and then turns north, cruising parallel to the California coast. The smugglers may refuel with barrels of gas carried on the boat or by meeting up with another vessel at sea. When the latitude of the selected beach is reached, it turns back to shore to locate the pre-arranged pick up spot.

Panga Boats and Their Load of Marijuana

“People on panga boats are looking for any kind of rural coastline they can find, and we have a lot of that in this county,” a San Luis Obispo County sheriff’s spokesman said. “They look for nooks and crannies where they can offload marijuana. We are trying to hamper them at every turn and make it not suitable for them to land here.”

He was speaking in reference to a case in which 18 people were arrested and 144 bales of marijuana estimated to be worth $2.7 million were seized. This operation was well organized and involved a motor home, two vans, a car and a panga boat.

Off the coast of northern San Diego County, federal agents intercepted a small fishing boat packed with more than a quarter of a ton of marijuana. U.S. Border Patrol personnel began tracking the panga boat’s course in the ocean in the early morning hours. When the boat landed on a beach in Del Mar, agents took a single occupant into custody and discovered 878 pounds of cannabis in 41 bundles inside the vessel.

Daniel R. Perlman
The Law Offices of Daniel R. Perlman