The war on water: Pangas threaten national security Part 2 - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

The war on water: Pangas threaten national security Part 2

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More than 50 panga boats have been abandoned along the Central Coast since 2012, only a handful seized at sea by authorities. Authorities say it's not just marijuana being dropped off, but people who are a possible threat to the nation's security.

These increased concerns have brought some increased security measures. A federal grant has been given to local departments to step up border patrols. Authorities say the ultimate goal is to make sure pangas do not land on their county beaches.

"The amount of boats coming up from Mexico is tremendous, so we do what we can with the resources we have," says Lieutenant Christopher Miller of the United States Coast Guard.

KSBY drove to Ventura to speak with a representative from the Coast Guard. He would not get into specifics but did say the federal government recognizes a concern and is giving them additional resources.

"In addition to technology, adding new boats that can stay out longer, longer patrols that have advanced equipment, detection equipment, that kind of stuff," says Lieutenant Miller. "It not only allows us to stay out there longer, but it gives us extra tools to detect vessels entering the U.S. illegally. I can not talk specifics what our tactics are, (but) I can tell you that we are out there 24/7."

With a limited number of assets, experts say it is unrealistic to completely guard the entire Pacific Coast.

"In a perfect world we would have a line of boats past our shore, past our territorial seas to protect the U.S.," says Lieutenant Miller. "That is not something we can achieve. Through a layered defense kind of modeling using other government agencies, aircrafts, and boats, we do the best with what we have."

That is where local agencies come into play and they have a plan of action all their own. For security purposes, the public can not know the exacts, but Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown says his department is being diligent.

"I can't really get into the tactics being used but I can tell you we are working very closely with the federal agencies, with the Coast Guard, with Homeland Security, to indirect the threat before it reaches our shores," he says.

With a federal grant, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office has funding for overtime hours for continual patrol protection, and they do tell KSBY they are using advanced technology.

"Night vision cameras, which is really helpful to us because if you look at our entire coastline, particularly where boats have landed, it is wide open field areas," says San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson. "So when our deputies are patrolling they can actually use infrared cameras that can actually pick up people out in the fields that the naked eye won't pick up.

But their best new tool is The Defender. Complete with side scan sonar, this 27 foot boat allows Sheriff's deputies to do something that they have never been able to do before, physically be on the ocean.

"The focus is on border protection. That is what the grant is all about. It isolates protecting the border of the county," says Sheriff Parkinson. "That is the reason we got it and that is what we are pushing for. Certainly on the panga end of it, and that is a part of that, but having the ability to respond on the ocean in a boat is a really big thing."

With stronger resources, the Sheriff's Office is determined to keep its stance on the border an aggressive one.

"We are not going to treat it as just marijuana, we are going to treat it as an invasion in the country, and we have to be concerned that something more dangerous could be on board one of those boats," says Sheriff Parkinson. "And I think if we ignore that, I don't think I am doing my job and we are not doing our job for the country."

Every agency told KSBY the most valuable resource out there is word of mouth. You are asked to call local authorities if you see anything unusual or out of the ordinary.

U.S. Coast Guard: (805) 772-2167
San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office: (805) 473-7100
Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office: (805) 681-4100

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