Congressmember Lois Capps and five of her colleagues in the California Congressional Delegation sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano yesterday voicing concern over increased panga activity in West Coast waters and asking for a sit-down with Homeland Security officials to discuss how federal authorities are coordinating with local law enforcement agencies.
The request comes just over a week after Coast Guard Chief Petter Officer Terrell Horne III was killed off the coast of Santa Cruz Island as he and his crew responded to a suspicious boat in Smuggler’s Cove. “While the tragic death of Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III has brought national attention to the issue of panga smuggling, California’s coastal communities, particularly the Central Coast, have faced a significant increase in the incidents of panga smuggling over the past two years,” said Capps in a prepared statement.
Below is Capps’s full letter to Napolitano:
Dear Secretary Napolitano,
We are writing to express our concern for the increased incidence of panga boat smuggling off the California coast and to request an update on what the federal government has done to date to prevent these boats from landing on American shores. The panga boat encounter off the coast of Santa Cruz Island on December 2, 2012 that led to Coast Guardsman Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III’s death has highlighted the danger of these smuggling vessels.
As you may know, over the last few years Mexican drug trafficking organizations have begun smuggling both drugs and people onto California shores using small boats called “pangas.” These open-top boats are typically twenty to forty-five feet in length and built for speed. Local law enforcement officials estimate that each boat carries at least 1 ton of illegal drugs, usually marijuana although methamphetamine smuggling has also been reported. In addition, undocumented immigrants have been smuggled on these boats. These individuals who have come from as far as China are a border security risk, but could also be victims of human trafficking.
Law enforcement and the media report that panga boat interceptions have been on the rise. According to data kept by U.S. Border Patrol, in fiscal year 2011, 57 panga events off southern California were reported. To date in fiscal year 2012 already 64 events have been reported. They have been found up the California coast as far as San Francisco, and due to the increase in enforcement in the southern California region an increasing number have also been landing on the Central Coast. This increase is cause for concern, especially given the possibility for these boats to smuggle more dangerous cargo, like weapons and potential terrorists.
Unfortunately, it is hard to estimate the true prevalence of these boats as we can only count those intercepted by law enforcement or that are found abandoned on our shores. In that way, the issue could be even worse and yet we know nothing about them.
Given the risk these boats present and the tragedy that occurred on December 2, 2012, we are writing to request a briefing on the work of DHS, including the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, to combat the rise in drug and human smuggling from panga boats. We are interested in gaining a complete picture of the resources and tools at your disposal to address the threats these vessels pose and to learn how the federal government works with local and state officials to protect our shores. This is a unique security project involving local, state, and federal resources that must work together to be successful. We look forward to your prompt response.
Thank you for all you do to protect the citizens of the United States. We stand ready to work with you to ensure that we are doing all we can to keep our citizens and our coastline safe.