SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - There's been a significant drop in smuggling boats bringing illegal immigrants and drugs to Santa Barbara County this year. Since 2010, there have been 42 vessels located on local beaches, some with suspects and their cargo nearby.
A private meeting with Congresswoman Lois Capps, Sheriff Bill Brown, the U.S. Coast Guard and Homeland Security detailed the latest efforts to combat the smuggling vessels, also known as panga boats.
The notorious Sinoloa cartel out of Mexico is said to be responsible for the bulk of the drug running into California coastal communities, according to government sources who attended the meeting. Specific details on what is being done to deter the drug operations would not be released but the numbers show a sweeping change.
In 2012 and 2013, 33 vessels made it to Santa Barbara County shores. This year, only two panga boats have been located.
"There have been a number of interactions at sea," said Sheriff Brown. He said those boats "haven't made it" to shore.
In December of 2012, Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Officer Terrell Horne, a 14 year veteran, died in Santa Barbara coastal waters during a violent confrontation with suspects in a panga boat. He was the first member of the Coast Guard murdered while on duty since the 1920's.
Brown says 20 arrests have been made since 2010, and over $71-million worth of marijuana was confiscated.
Congresswoman Capps said the federal government has made an effort to send resources and funding to California to battle the smuggling operations under "Operation Stonegarden."
In recent years, the panga boats have been located in areas, farther to the north than the beaches of Los Angeles, Ventura or Santa Barbara. Now they are seen on the shores of San Luis Obispo and Monterey counties.
Brown says that shows, the smugglers are trying to get past areas where enforcement has been stepped up.