Two years after the South Coast saw a substantial uptick in panga boats arriving onshore, officials reported Monday they will continue to seek funding to combat the sea-borne smuggling. Though known landings have decreased, officials say, the danger persists. “We’ve kept this on the front burner,” Rep. Lois Capps told reporters at the harbor with foghorns sounding in the backdrop. On the Central Coast, the small vessels — typically full of marijuana or illegal migrants — started showing up at a more frequent rate after Homeland Security strengthened barriers along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico land border several years ago. “Strong enforcement and quick, rapid response is the best signal we can give to smugglers who find a market here,” Capps said.
Since the “phenomenon” began several years ago, Sheriff Bill Brown said officials have caught 42 vessels on the Santa Barbara coast: one in 2010, six in 2011, 20 in 2012, 13 in 2013, and two so far this year. Ten involved human trafficking. Authorities have seized 28,649 pounds of marijuana — worth more than $71 million street value — and made 120 arrests. But only a small percentage of smugglers are intercepted, and the number of actual arrivals is unknown, said Sheriff’s spokesperson Kelly Hoover.
Santa Barbara’s coastline is a particularly attractive destination for smugglers because it’s a long stretch of land located right next to the highway, said Sheriff Bill Brown. To boost monitoring and enforcement efforts, Santa Barbara County received $375,000 to pay for equipment and overtime costs last year. (Most agencies use thermal cameras, and some use radars to spot smugglers.) Last month, Capps formally requested funding for Operation Stonegarden — a federal grant program to secure borders — to match aid secured for this fiscal year.