An abandoned panga boat carrying 577 pounds of marijuana that was found in Malibu Saturday is believe to have been part of an organized drug smuggling operation, authorities said.
The 35-foot vessel was found at about 6:15 a.m. at a beach along the Pacific Coast Highway near Deer Creek Road, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release.
The boat was carrying 41 bales of marijuana onboard.
Deputies also found 37 large canisters filled with about 605 gallons of gasoline in the boat, and floating in the water nearby, according to the news release.
The Sheriff’s Office said the use of large amounts of gasoline is common in narcotics smuggling operations.
Panga boats are fishing boats commonly used by “sophisticated maritime narcotics smugglers” to bring large amounts of drugs from Mexico to the United States, the Sheriff’s Office said.
Drug-carrying panga boats have shown up consistently along the California coast for years. Notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is supected to have used panga boats to bring narcotics into the U.S.
Between 2011 and 2016, 234 of 309 detected drug smuggling operations involving panga boats and recreational vessels in the country were intercepted in California, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office.
That made up 76% of all maritime drug smuggling busts in the country.
Authorities said smugglers usually have associates in the Unites States that help transport and distribute the drugs.
It’s unclear where the boat found in Malibu came from, or where it was headed.
After the discovery, a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter was sent to the beach to search for any people in distress, but the search was later called off and no victims were found, authorities said.
Authorities disposed of the gasoline containers and seized the boat and bales of marijuana.
“The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office is committed to aggressively target maritime narcotics trafficking by working closely with U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agents and U.S. Coast Guard to combat maritime narcotics trafficking affecting Ventura County,” the news release read.