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The war on water: Pangas threaten national security Part 1 - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

The war on water: Pangas threaten national security Part 1

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Panga boats have been beaching on the Central Coast since 2012. They are 25 to 30 foot boats traveling from Mexico carrying hundreds of pounds of marijuana and undocumented immigrants.

Since San Diego County was originally the easiest to enter through, Homeland Security has taken action there. But now, the problem is heading north to the Central Coast. Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo County have seen more than 50 of these boats in the past few years. Law enforcement now has new concerns.

Because of all the recent threats to national security abroad and at home, the Sheriff's Offices in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties are feeling the pressure to keep the coast safe. With 200 miles of open coastline and recent panga boat activity, the sheriffs say they are worried it is an easy door for anyone.

"That is the big fear that we just don't know what is coming into the country," says Sheriff Ian Parkinson, of the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office. "I think we are absolutely at risk."

Panga boats continue to drop off drugs and immigrants, and Sheriff Parkinson is uneasy about the hazards these boats open to America's borders.

"The easiest way through Mexico at least is by boat," says Sheriff Parkinson. "That does not guarantee that you are going to make it but the reality is if you were trying to enter this country for more reasons than living here, but to do some terrorist act, it would make sense that they would take that path to come in here."

In San Luis Obispo County, only four pangas have been captured, more than 60 people arrested, and thousands of pounds of marijuana recovered. In comparison, the Sheriff's Office has found 14 abandoned and have no estimate about how many have landed and escaped. But the fact of the pangas being left behind with motors costing more than $50,000 shows just how profitable their business is.

"The truth is, I do not think the problem is going away, I think it is going to be here," says Sheriff Parkinson. "I think it is potentially going to get worse, I really do not think we have hurt them significantly that they are going to stop."

About 40 pangas have chosen the shores of Santa Barbara County, which has its Sheriff worried too.

"The increase in terrorist related incidents and threats as a result particularly the ISIS situation is a concern that this is an avenue for people to illegally enter the United States," says Sheriff Bill Brown of Santa Barbara County.

Local authorities are not the only ones concerned. The United States Coast Guard is also on high alert.

"We do not know the backgrounds on these people who are coming across the border, both migrants, the smugglers themselves, a lot of them come with a pretty extensive criminal background so there is a concern there," says U.S. Coast Guard Lieutenant Christopher Miller.

Leaving those left to protect our coast seeing the exposure.

"Is the coastline vulnerable? Absolutely," Lieutenant Miller responds to his own question.

"You know the obvious is that these terrorists get in this country somehow, and if you are a terrorist what would you do?" asks Sheriff Parkinson. "Would you take the chance of coming across the border, you know, through a check point or on an airplane? Or into a county that has 100 miles of shoreline?"

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