SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. - The Central Coast is on the front lines of what has evolved over time into a national security threat from high speed smuggling boats coming up from across the maritime border.
The suspects arrested in recent "panga" boat incursions are all from across the border.
"They have been prolific for the past seven years", says U.S. Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Allyson Conroy, "from my experience in San Diego maritime smuggling has been on the rise."
34 year old Senior Chief Coast Guardsman Terrell Horne was killed last December during a Coast Guard law enforcement operation involving panga boats in the Ssanta Barbara Channel.
A Coast Guard investigation into Chief Horne's death points the blame at two undocumented immigrant men that rammed their panga boat into Horne's small boat launched from the Coast Guard Cutter "Halibut" for the operation.
Horne was tossed into the Santa Barbara Channel near Santa Cruz Island and died from a head injury.
Following a seven-day trial, a federal jury convicted two Mexican nationals on February 5, 2014 of charges related to the death of Senior Chief Horne.
One of the defendants was convicted of second-degree murder.
Sentencing is scheduled for May 12, 2014.
The proliferation of "panga" boats on the Central Coast, along with the tragic death of Senior Chief Horne, thought to be the first USCG casualty from a panga boat incursion, may not have changed the overall mission of the U.S. Coast Guard, but its likely to have had an impact on tactics.
"I can't really talk about tactics and how we go about doing our mission", says USCG CWO Conroy, "but I can say that, yes, we are out in the water, we are conducting law enforcement patrols at various times in various areas in the effort to stop as many panga boats, as many illicit activities, as we possibly can and to save lives."