More than 2,000 pounds of marijuana were seized and 18 people arrested after authorities busted a panga boat that came ashore at a Santa Barbara County beach Friday, law enforcement said.
It’s the latest bust in what officials have called an increase in illegal maritime drug smuggling along California’s central coast.
Members of the California National Guard first spotted the boat, pictured below, as it came ashore at Arroya Quemada Beach early Friday, according to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department. They saw nearly two dozen people offloading from the boat bales of what the guards thought could be narcotics.
The group took off running when sheriff’s deputies arrived at the beach, but were later found hiding in the bushes, sheriff’s spokeswoman Kelly Hoover said in a news release. Fourteen people were ultimately arrested at the scene.
Four more people were arrested hours later, found hiding near the beach where the bust began.
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Later, Homeland Security agents in Camarillo stopped a truck suspected of being involved in the alleged smuggling scheme. Bales of marijuana and “other evidence” linked the truck to the panga boat found on the beach, authorities said.
Those traveling in the truck – authorities could not say how many – fled on foot, and authorities are asking anyone with information in the case to “immediately call law enforcement.”
Many of those arrested are from the Los Angeles area, officials said, adding that they would not be identified until they are formally charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The bust was called an “example of how federal, state and local agencies are coming together to address the recent increase of illegal maritime drug smuggling activity on the central coast.”
Agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the California Highway Patrol (CHP), Ventura County Sheriff’s Department K9 Unit and air suppor, and the U.S. Coast Guard responded to the scene.
Friday's discovery is one in a rising number of cases in recent years in which suspected smugglers use fishing boats -- called pangas -- from Mexico to ferry drugs and people into the United States, authorities said.
There have 10 panga boat busts – involving drug and human smuggling – in Santa Barbara County since October 2012, according to data from the Department of Homeland Security. More than 9,735 pounds of marijuana has been seized in those busts so far.
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