Panga boats spotted multiple times on West Malibu Beaches 

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In this online screenshoot on the X social media platform, a panga boat full of suspected illegal immigrants lands on a beach near a Malibu home last week. Screenshot from Bill Melugin/X

Coast Guard says it recently interdicted a vessel with 23 illegal immigrants off Malibu’s coast 

By Barbara Burke

Special to The Malibu Times

​On Dec. 6 at approximately 5:30 am, a Malibu coastal homeowner alerted authorities that a panga boat — a high-bowed vessel of the type that is often used by those smuggling humans or drugs — was visible on El Pescador Beach. Responding officers found a debris field with approximately 15 fuel canisters and some personal items near the overturned boat at the shoreline. Officials towed the panga boat northward, accompanied by coast guard cutters and helicopters, two baywatch boats and a Sheriff’s helicopter. 

​“A panga washed up on El Pescador on Dec. 6,” Sgt. Sean Maloney told The Malibu Times on Dec. 9. “No occupants of that boat were located. U.S. Border Patrol is investigating the incident.”

Captain Marco Rodriguez, public information officer for LA County Lifeguards, provided more details. 

“On Dec. 6, a homeowner contacted us and when we responded there were no signs of anyone near the panga boat at El Pescador and no one was in the water,” he said.

Rodriguez discussed a second incident less than a week before.

“On Dec. 1, at approximately 6 a.m, we responded to a call and found two boats near El Pescador Beach,” he said. “One was capsized in the water and one was on the beach. A debris field was located near the first one and, utilizing our marine technical search team with a sonar, we determined that there were no humans in the water.”

On Dec. 1, nearby concerned homeowners observed police swarming El Pescador Beach’s parking lot and a helicopter hovering overhead. Authorities closed Pacific Coast Highway in both directions for a time.

​“A boat full of people sank or was sunk off Latigo Shores Drive this morning,” Richard Ciotti, a Western Malibu resident, posted on Nextdoor on Dec. 1. “The boat is sitting just off the coast in about 15 feet of water and there is a lot of debris floating around and on the beach, including more than a dozen life jackets, half a dozen 5-gallon water bottles and canned food. A lifeguard was just overheard saying there was a large hole in the starboard hull of the boat. The boat could have been scuttled to hide it.” 

A video obtained by The Malibu Times and other local media shows a panga boat full of suspected illegal immigrants landing on the beach on the morning of Dec. 1. Throwing off their life jackets, the individuals quickly left the beach. ​

“The boat arrived as the tide was going out — about an hour before the lowest tide point — with a high tide coming in (8.1 feet) and peaking at 8:54 a.m., according to the tide charts.” Malibuite Mari Stanley noted. “The panga arrived after 1 a.m. with plenty of time for the incoming tide to toss it around and swamp it. It might not have been scuttled intentionally, but the disregard shown is enough to blame humans for the incident that required multiple agencies to respond. 

​”Those who are responsible for the panga should be facing federal charges for spilling gas and oil intentionally left in a tidal zone where the water is supposed to be pristine,” Stanley said. ​

It is unclear whether the occupants — which some observers posting on social media numbered at approximately 22 people — were involved in human or drug smuggling or were entering the country illegally for other purposes. To date, none have been apprehended.

The panga boats landing near and on El Pescador Beach are not the only recent incidents in Malibu. Officials inform that a third incident involved human smuggling.​

​“We responded to a call at 7:55 a.m. on Nov. 29, and found a sunken panga boat with life vests and water drums,” Maloney said. “LA County Lifeguards also responded.” 

On Nov. 29, residents’ surveillance cameras along the Malibu coast revealed a panga boat full of suspected illegal immigrants landing on a beach. Again, to date, none have been apprehended and authorities are investigating. ​

The Malibu Times reached out to the U.S. Coast Guard concerning such events, only to find out there was yet another incident, which officials stated involved human smuggling. 

“On 29 NOV 23, USCG Sector Los Angeles — Long Beach was notified by local law enforcement agencies of a submerged panga in Malibu. It was assessed to be a maritime human smuggling event involving 24 getaways based on the number of life vests,” A USCG press release issued by Coast Guard District 11 stated.

USCG Public Information Officer Jake David provided Malibu Times with a press release dated Nov. 21, titled “Coast Guard and CBP interdict human smuggling vessel off Malibu Coast” concerning another such event, stating, “Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection’s Air and Marine Operations personnel interdicted a vessel suspected of human smuggling off the coast of Malibu. While on a routine patrol, the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Blackfin detected a 41-foot pleasure craft operating 16 miles off the coast of Malibu at 4:16 p.m.”

Personnel at Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles, Long Beach diverted the Coast Guard Cutter Halibut, launched a small boat, and requested surface and air assets from CBP whose Office of Field Operations Special Enforcement Group started to investigate, according to the statement.

“The law enforcement teams arrived on the scene and detained 23 undocumented non-citizens attempting to enter the country illegally,” said Cmdr. Keith Robinson, Chief of Law Enforcement at Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles, Long Beach. “Air and Marine Operations seized and towed the vessel, and transported the vessel and people onboard to shore for further processing by Special Enforcement Group officers. 

“These vessels are inherently dangerous, and our extensive partnerships with CBP and AMO are essential to keeping boaters safe and enforcing the nation’s customs and immigration laws.” 

The Malibu Times will keep readers informed of any further panga boats on or near Malibu and of any interdictions of human smugglers off of Malibu’s coast.