Good Question

Sep 19, 2013 12:15 AM by John Reger

GQ: Why is the panga boat so popular with smugglers?

Last week alone, drug smugglers made two more runs to the Central Coast. An beached panga boat was found at San Simeon, then 18 people were arrested when a panga was caught near Refugio State Beach. That raised this question: Why are panga boats so popular with smugglers? Good Question. The answer of the panga boat shape. Its wide, flat bottom allows the boat to ride buoyantly with a heavy load, like the 4 or 5 tons of marijuana plus a dozen people on a typical run. It can be have a tough time in heavy seas but navigates easily in shallow waters and can be run right up onto a beach for off-loading. A panga sits low in the water with sides usually painted blue, making it hard to spot in open waters. Smugglers cover the boats with a blue tarp so they can't be seen by eyes in the sky. At night the tarps make Coast Guard heat-seeking technology almost useless. The pangas range from 25 to 40 feet long and carry up to 4 outboard engines. They can reach speeds of 45 miles an hour or more and can outrun most Coast Guard vessels. A typical smuggling run starts in Mexico when a loaded panga heads 100 miles out to sea. It then turns north for 300 miles, refueling with barrels of gas it carries or by meeting up with a "mothership" at sea. When it's parallel to a pre-determined beach, it heads the 100 miles back to shore and offloads to a waiting van. Panga is an African word meaning "thin blade" referring the long, thin shape of the boat. Friend me, John Reger, with your Good Question. The only bad question is the one you don't ask.

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